Police in Kalamazoo, Michigan arrested a suspect in the early hours of Sunday morning for a string of shootings that left six dead and two wounded in what law enforcement officials called a random act of mass murder.
Jeffrey Getting, the Kalamazoo County prosecutor, said the person in custody would appear in court as early as Monday afternoon, to face murder counts for each victim killed and assault charges for those wounded.
Officers identified the suspect as Jason Dalton, 45, who they said lives in Kalamazoo County and has no known criminal record. After his arrest, which occurred at 12.40am at a traffic stop, police recovered a semi-automatic handgun from his car.
On Sunday, Uber confirmed to 24 Hour News 8 that the suspect was a driver who had passed a background check. The company’s chief security officer said Uber was “reaching out to police to help with their investigation in any way that we can”.
The shootings began around 6pm on Saturday with victims selected “at random”, police said. All three attacks took place in parking lots. A woman whom police believed was babysitting several children – they were unharmed – was shot multiple times outside the Meadows Townhomes residential complex in north-east Kalamazoo. On Sunday, the woman was in serious condition.
Close to 10pm, two people, believed to be a father and son, were killed near a Kia car dealership. Police responded 15 minutes later to a shooting in the parking lot of a nearby Cracker Barrel restaurant, where four women were killed.
Police identified the women as Mary Lou Nye, 62; Mary Jo Nye, 60; Dorothy Brown, 74; and Barbara Hawthorne, 68.
Mary Lou Nye, from Baroda, Michigan, was killed as she sat in the driver’s seat of an Oldsmobile minivan. The other three women, who were in one car, were from Battle Creek, a half-hour to the west.
Police initially announced that a 14-year-old girl in the front passenger seat of same car had died, but they later said she had survived. The girl was in surgery on Sunday morning, Getting told local media, in what he said was a good sign.
Police did not release the names of the two people shot near the car dealership.
On Sunday, the Cracker Barrel restaurant off Interstate 94 was roped with yellow crime scene tape. A call to the restaurant continued rang indefinitely. Employees at an adjacent hotel deferred any comment to the Kalamazoo department of public safety.
Speaking in a parking lot near the restaurant, Bob and Nancy, a married couple from Illinois who declined to give their surnames, said they visited family in Kalamazoo often and stayed at the nearby hotel. As the shooting unfolded, they said, they had been eating dinner in downtown Kalamazoo.
“We did know that there was a happening because it was on the radio,” Nancy said. “Other than that, we really didn’t know anything.”
Bob added: “I saw all the lights and thought, ‘What’s going on?’ I thought maybe the place was on fire or something.”
“It’s just an unbelievable situation because it’s very safe,” his wife said. “It’s hard for the people around here to comprehend.”
Dalton’s house lies along a two-way road in nearby Cooper Township, a community of more than 8,000. On Sunday afternoon, other than a gaggle of farm animals grazing across the street, the only sight around the house was a group of reporters chatting with neighbors. On the driveway, empty cans of soda and energy drinks lay scattered.
Officials go “out of their way to keep everything quiet out here,” said Gary Pardo Jr, whose parents have lived across the street for roughly 15 years. Pardo said he had met Dalton only a “handful of times” and such meetings “were like any action with any other human being: there was nothing extraordinary about it.
“He was one of the neighbors that didn’t talk to my parents as much as everyone else. And when they did it seemed pretty brief. I mean, the guy just worked on cars, worked, and raised his kids.”
Michael Arney, a local radio reporter, said he attended Comstock high school in Kalamazoo with Dalton, who was now, he said, the third murder suspect from his 1989 graduating class. Dalton was co-captain of the football team, Arney said, and had decent grades. The two last spoke at a friend’s 40th birthday party, in July 2011.
“I’m just as shocked anyone else right now,” Arney said, adding that Dalton grew up in southern Indiana and moved to the Kalamazoo area in 1986. “I’m trying to wrap my head around it.”
Before the first shooting on Saturday, Arney said a mutual friend received a text from Dalton, relaying that he had recently started working as an Uber driver.
Police said they were investigating a claim that before the first shooting, the suspect was driving erratically and side-swiped a car. On Saturday night, an Uber passenger posted a warning to Facebook about a dangerous driver. The photo she posted resembled the suspect, and the passenger gave a description of the driver’s car similar to that of the vehicle in which he was arrested.
Surveillance video of the suspect’s dark Chevrolet captured at the dealership helped lead to the arrest. The suspect was “even-tempered” and “cooperative”, law enforcement officials said, and was taken into custody without a struggle.
Getting said the suspect was in contact with others throughout the evening and police were seeking more details from his cellphone records. But he added that police are not seeking any other suspects.
Police searched the suspect’s home for more than four hours, starting before dawn. Chief Jeff Hadley told reporters they were searching for a computer, a hard drive and any additional weapons.
Regarding a possible motive, Kalamazoo County undersheriff Paul Matyas told local TV station WWMT: “There’s usually a rhyme or reason to it. In this particular case, we’re not finding that. Hopefully when we interview the individual he’ll disclose that to us.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that the police work in this situation saved lives,” Getting said on Sunday morning. “No question.”
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