Wisconsin Police Officer Killed in Wild Shootout 'Always Gave 110 Percent'

FOND DU LAC, Wis. -- The aunt of the Fond du Lac police officer who lost his life in the line of duty says her nephew was focused on serving and protecting his community.

Twenty-eight-year-old Craig Birkholz was fatally shot and another officer was critically injured during a six-hour standoff at a suspect's house Sunday.

Birkholz's aunt, Patty Brown of Kenosha, says her nephew "always gave 110 percent" and was "exceptional young man." Brown says Birkholz aspired to join the FBI and saw his service as a police officer as a stepping stone to that goal.

Police in Fond du Lac were called around 6:30 a.m. Sunday to investigate a sexual assault. Shortly after they arrived, the suspect started shooting at the officers, a news release said.

SWAT teams surrounded the house during the standoff. Hours later, the suspect, James Cruckson, 30, was found dead inside the house from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said. Authorities used armored vehicles and shields to evacuate residents from nearby homes during the standoff.

Police said Cruckson's sister was in the house at the time. It wasn't immediately clear whether she was injured during the standoff.

Deputy Chief Kevin Lemke said Cruckson had prior contacts with police, but he wouldn't give details. Court records show he pleaded no contest and was found guilty of misdemeanor battery in 2009.

Police would not provide any further details about the shootings and said they went to the house while "continuing their investigation into a sexual assault."

Fond du Lac police Officer Craig Birkholz, 28, was shot in the upper chest and killed, police Chief Tony Barthuly said. K-9 Officer Ryan Williams was shot twice in the chest and was taken to an area hospital, where he was in critical condition, Barthuly said. Williams' dog, Grendel, also was shot.

A third officer, Zach Schultz, was injured on a stairwell in the house. Police say Schultz was not injured by gunfire.

Birkholz had been with the Fond du Lac Police Department for two years and had served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Army. He is survived by his wife, his parents and a brother.

In a statement, Gov. Scott Walker said Birkholz "made the ultimate sacrifice laying down his life while serving his community. While we may not have the words to comfort his loved ones, we assure them that Officer Birkholz's state and community are eternally grateful for his heroic service."

Williams underwent surgery at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah and is expected to recover, said Lemke. His dog also required surgery.

Barthuly said Williams likely would have died had he not been wearing a protective vest. Birkholz was also wearing a vest, but it did not save him.

Police could not say whether any officers returned fire on Cruckson, citing the ongoing investigation. In a statement, police said the Wisconsin Department of Justice has 22 agents investigating.

Marty Neis, who lives nearby, said he thought the gunshots were exploding fireworks.

"I thought, 'Who would be setting off fireworks at this time of the morning?"' he told The Reporter of Fond du Lac. He went outside and heard dozens of shots, then realized it was gunfire, he said.

Fond du Lac is located about 65 miles northwest of Milwaukee.