With candles in hand, upwards of 100 community members joined religious leaders, law enforcement and close friends in honoring two slain sisters at a Fitchburg park located only three blocks from where prosecutors say former Dane County sheriff’s deputy Andy Steele murdered his 39-year-old wife Ashlee Steele and her 38-year-old sister Kacee Tollefsbol.
“This horrific and inexplicable tragedy has been emotionally jarring, and has left each and every one of us constantly asking ourselves, and our families and our neighbors asking how this could've happened,” Fitchburg Mayor Shawn Pfaff told the crowd at Rosecommon Park.
The sister's uncle said Tollefsbol was visiting her sister and brother-in-law from Minnesota to offer moral support since Andy Steele had resigned from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office after an ALS diagnosis.
As Andy Steele was being charged Friday, family and friends laid Kacee Tollefsbol and Ashlee Steele to rest in their hometown of Stillwater, Minnesota.
“Something that comes up so tragically and horrifically out of nowhere, there aren’t words for that,” Ashlee Steel’s co-worker Amy Meyer said.
Leading the crowd in singing, Ryan Mauer and Becca Mauer used music as a way to comfort the crowd, and say goodbye to their friend and preschooler's teacher, Ashlee Steele.
In fact, many of the children Ashley Steele taught attended the vigil. While many Fitchburg police officers also wanted to be there, the city’s deputy police chief, Don Bates, explained why he was the only department representative present.
“I chose to wear the uniform, because I could not allow the 46 other members of the Fitchburg Police Department to attend,” Bates said.
As the vigil came to a close, Memorial United Church of Christ Pastor Phil Haslanger left the mourners with these parting words.
“Let us leave here tonight cherishing the memories of Ashlee and Kacee,” Haslanger said. “Let us leave here tonight confident that we can overcome fear and violence as we walk hand in hand in the days to come.”
A more formal service honoring the two women’s lives is being planned at Fitchburg’s The Church at Christ Memorial, where Ashlee Steele was a staff member.