Suspect and victim in shooting described as good neighbors
TOWN OF PLYMOUTH Chris Gestrich and Daniel Bellard were the kind of people who would give you the shirts off their backs, a neighbor said.
Gestrich was a kind, generous person with a good eye for cattle.
Bellard is the kind of man his neighbors could count on to buy Girl Scout cookies and Boy Scout popcorn.
That’s why folks were having a hard time Thursday understanding why Gestrich is dead and Bellard is in the hospital with a self-inflicted gunshot wound under suspicion of killing Gestrich.
“It’s just a huge shock to all of us,” said Joel Monk, a neighbor who lives up the road from the Gestrich and Bellard farms. “Danny and Eileen (Bellard’s wife) have always been nice to us and our kids. They were like the neighborhood grandparents. They bought Girl Scout cookies and Boy Scout popcorn.”
Sheriff’s deputies think Bellard shot Gestrich and then turned his shotgun on himself Wednesday morning on his picturesque farm on West Stuart Road in the town of Plymouth, Sheriff Robert Spoden said.
Gestrich and her family are well known in Rock County and even nationally as breeders of high-quality Angus and crossbred beef show cattle, said Rob McConnell of rural Clinton, a member of the Rock County Beef Producers Association.
“She was a real backbone to the beef industry in Rock County and the state,” McConnell said. “I looked up to her.”
Gestrich and her husband, Steve, were the beef project leaders for the Plymouth 4-H Club for nearly 30 years.
They and two of their children own and operate Stockridge Cattle Farm, according to the obituary her family submitted to The Gazette.
Calves from Stockridge Cattle Farm have been purchased for showing at the Rock County 4-H Fair and other regional fairs. The family raised a number of bulls that had national recognition for quality, McConnell said.
“She was such a nice person and very talented,” McConnell said. “The Gestriches are just a terrific family.”
Police found Gestrich, 59, dead in a barn in Bellard’s property when they responded to the report of a shooting at 8:18 a.m. Wednesday, Spoden said. Later that morning, they found Bellard, 75, with a severe head wound in a shed near his house across the road from the barn. They found a shotgun near him on the ground, Spoden said.
Bellard was in critical but stable condition Thursday afternoon at University Hospital, Madison, Spoden said.
Medical officials conducted Gestrich’s autopsy Thursday morning, he said.
The motive for the shooting is not clear, Spoden said. Investigators learned the families have had property disputes in the past, but no incidents have ever been reported, he said.
“It is unclear what specifically happened before the shooting,” Spoden said.
Investigators think Gestrich approached the barn in a skid loader, Spoden said.
“We think she was perhaps trying to remove snow,” Spoden said.
The skid loader was parked on the barn approach, and Gestrich had gotten off the machine, he said.
Eileen Bellard called police and reported the shooting, Spoden said. She told police to look for a victim in the barn, but she did not know where her husband was.
“She thought he might have gone in the house,” Spoden said.
When police arrived, they entered the barn and confirmed Gestrich was dead, Spoden said. Members of the Rock County SWAT Team started arriving and setting up a perimeter around the farms. Once deputies knew Eileen was safe and no one else was in immediate danger, deputies joined SWAT members in the perimeter, Spoden said.
They blocked off nearby roads and snowmobile trails, he said.
While getting into position, deputies heard a gunshot, Spoden said. It took about two hours from the time they arrived until they could work through the icy conditions on the large properties to take Bellard into custody, he said.
The Gestrich and Bellard families live on adjacent properties in the town of Plymouth, which is southeast of Orfordville in western Rock County. Ballard and Gestrich have been neighbors for more than 20 years, Monk said.
“They were both the kind of people who would give you the shirt off their back,” he said. “Something terribly tragic had to have gone wrong.”
Other neighbors who were not comfortable sharing their names in the paper told The Gazette that Bellard was a friendly man and a good neighbor.
Monk said he doesn’t know Bellard personally but talked to The Gazette because he wanted people to know that Bellard has been a good neighbor.
“I don’t want people to think he was some angry lunatic who’s lived in out in the sticks hidden all these years,” Monk said. “That’s not the case at all.”