Bryan Stanley’s return to mental facility sends mixed messages

LA CROSSE, Wis. — A man who gunned down three people at an Onalaska church more than 25 years ago is headed back to a mental health facility.

A La Crosse County judge ordered Bryan Stanley to return to the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison this week, causing mixed feelings in one of his victim’s families.

Ferd Roth Jr. lost his father in the 1985 shootings and he said his memories are just as clear as they were 26 years ago.

The other victims in that shooting were the church pastor and a church staff member.

Stanley was found not guilty because of a mental disease and was sent to the Mendota Mental Health facility in Madison.

In 2008, an appeals court ruled Stanley was no longer a danger to himself or the public and was released, a decision still doesn’t agree with.


“People like to say, ‘Well, he’s paid his debt to society and he’s fine as long as he stays on his meds and this and that.’ Well how do you pay your debt to society after murdering three people?” said Roth. “It can’t be done. My mother has lived 27 years now without a husband and there’s been a lot of kids and grandkids that don’t know their grandpa or dad anymore so no, my thought’s haven’t changed at all.”

Stanley had been living in La Crosse for the past couple of years and according to the court documents, Stanley said he was recently having thoughts that were causing him discomfort and anxiety, which was a violation of the agreement he signed upon his release.

Now that Stanley is going back to the mental institution, Roth said it may be for the best.

“Well it gives me peace of mind that someone else won’t injured in the future but I always believed in the idea that there’s no guarantees in life,” said Roth. “Medicine’s no guarantee, he’s no guarantee.”

Ferd Roth junior’s father, Ferd Sr. was the lay minister at St. Patrick’s at the time. Ferd Jr. said his father was very involved in the church. He loved helping out the pastor and was in charge of all the altar boys.

He said his father wasn’t even supposed to go to church that morning, but that particular day was a special occasion.

“In fact, that was the only reason why he was there that day it happened,” said Roth. “He usually didn’t go to church on, I believe it was a Thursday, but he had an altar boy that was graduating that day so he was there to see that everything went alright.”

Roth said the church greatly influenced the way his father looked at life.

“I’m sure he would say that there’s a reason for everything and God’s big plan, and maybe this was a way of preventing more bloodshed or harm or whatever you want to call it,” said Roth. “But my dad would have probably been more inclined to turn the other cheek than I am.”

Neighbors in the area where Stanley was most recently living declined to go on camera, but generally said he was a kind man who was quiet and didn’t disturb anyone. Stanley’s sister also respectfully declined to comment at this time.

A judge will decide within the next 30 days whether or not Stanley should spend the remainder of his life at Mendota.