By Erik Buchinger, Reporter
CLINTONVILLE – Clintonville native Andy Hopfensperger of the Antigo Police Department received a Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor for his role in a shooting at a 2016 high school prom.
Hopfensperger was one of 12 recipients of the Medal of Valor award and was joined in Washington D.C. by his father Andy Hopfensperger Sr., mother Roseanna Hopfensperger, and Chief Eric Roller and Captain Jim Kolpack of the Antigo Police Department.
The group visited the White House to meet Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump.
“That in itself was a great experience,” Hopfensperger said. “I never thought I’d meet the leader of my country, and I did it. It was an awesome experience visiting the White House and did some sightseeing. It was a good overall experience in the nation’s capital.”
Hopfensperger said he enjoyed listening to the other 11 Medal of Valor recipients tell their stories.
“It was a great honor, it was just great,” Hopfensperger said. “It was nice to be there with all the other firemen and police officers there and hear their stories.”
Hopfensperger and his partner were in the parking lot on foot patrol at the Antigo High School prom on April 23, 2016 when he heard what sounded like fireworks.
“I’ve been around firearms most of my life, but the second I heard that, I thought it was fireworks, but something didn’t sound right,” Hopfensperger said. “After I heard fireworks, there were four students exiting the field house. I saw them, and I heard one or two of the kids yell for help. I went around the DJ’s trailer because it was partially obstructing my view. Then I saw the gunman going toward the students with a rifle, and I yelled for him to drop the gun and instead of dropping it, he pointed it at me, and that’s when I engaged him.”
Eighteen-year-old Jakob Wagner shot and injured two students and was fatally shot by Hopfensperger.
“I didn’t have time to think. Everything went by so quick,” Hopfensperger said. “It was one of those things where it happens, and you have to react now, and that’s what I did. I did what I was trained to do, and everything turned out the way it did because of my training.”
Hopfensperger said he has to be ready for situations to happen at any moment.
“Things can turn from one thing to another so quickly,” Hopfensperger said. “You don’t expect it to happen, but anything can happen anywhere. That’s what I took away from it. You’ve got to be on your toes because bad things can happen in a blink of an eye.”
After watching his father, a long-time police officer for the Clintonville Police Department, Hopfensperger knew following in his dad’s footsteps is something he wanted to do.
“I wanted to become a police officer because I saw my dad as police officer growing up, and I admired him for what he did,” Hopfensperger said. “I admired the job, and I went to school for it and found it to be a good fit. I enjoyed it, not only was watching my dad, but I just wanted to be a helping member of my community and help people if they need it.”
Hopfensperger said his father gave him guidance when needed but wanted him to learn the job on his own.
“He helped me out if I had questions about something, but he wanted me to be my own person and fill my own shoes,” Hopfensperger said. “I mean that in a good way. He didn’t want me to ride on his shoulders.”
The Clintonville Tribune-Gazette reached out to Andy Hopfensperger Sr., but he was unavailable before press time Tuesday, March 6.
With a string of recent school shootings in the country including in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed at a high school last month, Hopfensperger said he hopes the leaders can find solutions.
“Just in Wisconsin here, the businesses and schools are starting to administer the ALICE technique, which is alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate,” Hopfensperger said. “It’s a different type of response for students and staff members and of course in a business setting too. Instead of going on lockdown, police departments in the state are teaching that and maybe there are some policies or procedures that need to be changed with joint school districts, local government, state government and federal government. Those are the leaders of our communities, but I’m hoping they can come up with an answer. We just need a solution to the problem.”
Hopfensperger has been a police officer for nine years including five with the Antigo Police Department. He said he appreciated the recognition from his experience nearly two years ago.
“I feel very honored especially to be standing there with those heroes,” Hopfensperger said. “I feel like I was just doing my job, but I greatly appreciate the recognition and award. It’s a feeling that I don’t have words for. It’s unbelievable.”
Despite receiving the Medal of Valor, Hopfensperger stops short of calling himself a hero.
“I’m just a night shift patrolman,” Hopfensperger said. “I did what I was supposed to do, did what I was trained to do as just a regular beat cop. Any other officer, deputy or trouper would’ve done the same thing I would’ve done.”