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Citizen offers details of day

November 5, 2010
Jenn Brookens — Staff Writer

FAIRMONT - Following the house fire and shooting on Webster Street last week, he was referred to as the "good Samaritan" neighbor.

Fortunately for Matt Van Watermulen, when shots were fired as he attempted to help at the scene, he only suffered what doctors call a grazing wound.

It didn't seem to affect his spirits Thursday as he spoke to the Sentinel by phone. He is currently staying with family in Fergus Falls, and plans to be back in the area Sunday for deer-hunting season.

Article Photos

Matt Van Watermulen

"I am an avid sportsman," Van Watermulen said. "There are not a lot of things that will keep me away. Besides, I'll probably just spend a lot of time in the stand."

Van Watermulen has been living in Fairmont for three years and works for 3M. On that windy Tuesday, Oct. 26, he was doing some work in his garage when he looked across the street and saw the fire.

"I ran to my basement to grab my phone, and I tried to call 911, but I was too excited; I couldn't dial," he recalled. "The neighbor next door was on her deck, and I yelled to her to call 911."

Van Watermulen tried to look through the windows of the burning house, and even went into the garage to see if anyone was trapped inside.

"When I went in the garage, I saw all the car doors were open and there were newspapers on the floor," he said. "I banged on the door to the house and was yelling to see if anyone was in there, but I didn't dare open it, because I already knew there was a fire inside and I didn't want a backdraft."

When he saw police officer Chad Sanow arriving, Van Watermulen approached him to say he didn't know if anyone was inside. When they were both in front of the house, that's when they heard the pops.

"I saw Chad turn 180 degrees, then I heard another bang and I was hit in the stomach and it knocked me a quarter-way into the road," he said. "I didn't know I was shot until the fire chief pulled up. I looked up and saw him and ran towards him, and we saw Chad run to the back of the neighbor's house. I told (the fire chief) that the cop and I were hit with something. But Chad knew someone was shooting at us."

Van Watermulen remained awake for the ordeal, but didn't realize he had been shot until he was in an ambulance.

"They asked if I was a hunter, and I said I was," he said. "They asked if it sounded like a rifle or a shotgun, and I told them shotgun. Then they told me I was hit with a 12-gauge slug. I think I remember asking why, why anyone would shoot at us."

Van Watermulen said he only met the shooter, his neighbor Michael Mathwig, once during a neighborhood gathering:?"He seemed like a nice guy; he was quiet and didn't say much," he said. "I didn't expect anything like this from him ... I hadn't heard anything about (Mathwig's criminal record) until after this happened."

Mathwig was on probation for a criminal sexual conduct/indecent exposure charge. Police say Mathwig had issues with law enforcement in general during this time.

Van Watermulen has had contact with Sanow and police since the shooting, including giving statements, retracing steps and comparing details.

"The whole community has come together," he said. "Fairmont really is a safe community to live in; you don't expect something like this to happen. But everyone has really pulled together."

The incident doesn't seem to have soured this "good Samaritan."

"I could dwell on the 'what ifs,' but it's beating a dead horse," Van Watermulen said. "The chances of something like this happening to me again are one in a billion. I wouldn't do anything different."



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