KALAMAZOO, Mich. – A gunman who seemed to choose his victims at random opened fire outside an apartment complex, a car dealership and a restaurant in Michigan, killing at least six people during a rampage that lasted nearly seven hours, police said.
Authorities identified the shooter as Jason Dalton, a 45-year-old Uber driver who police said had no criminal record. They could not say what motivated him Saturday night to target victims with no apparent connection to him or to each other.
“How do you go and tell the families of these victims that they weren’t targeted for any reason other than they were there to be a target?” Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said Sunday at a news conference.
Dalton, who was arrested in Kalamazoo following a massive manhunt, was expected to be arraigned Monday on murder charges.
Kalamazoo County Undersheriff Paul Matyas described a terrifying series of attacks that began about 6 p.m. Saturday outside the Meadows apartment complex on the eastern edge of Kalamazoo County, where a woman was shot multiple times. She was expected to survive.
A little more than four hours later and 15 miles away, a father and his 18-year-old son were fatally shot while looking at cars at the dealership.
Fifteen minutes after that, five people were gunned down in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant along Interstate 94, Matyas said. Four of them died.
A 14-year-old girl had earlier been reported among the fatalities, based on a pronouncement by medical officials. But police later said that she was hospitalized in critical condition.
Authorities did not believe the shootings were targeted at specific people, describing them as “our worst-case scenario,” Matyas said.
“These are random murders,” he said.
Dalton was arrested without incident about 12:40 a.m. Sunday after a deputy spotted his vehicle driving through downtown Kalamazoo after leaving a bar parking lot, authorities said.
Matyas declined to disclose anything found in the vehicle except for a semi-automatic handgun.
“In this particular case, we’re just thankful it ended the way it did – before he could really kill anybody else,” Matyas said.
By midday, authorities were investigating a Facebook post that indicated the suspect was driving for Uber during the manhunt and had taken at least one fare, Getting said.
A spokeswoman for Uber confirmed that Dalton had driven for the company in the past, but she declined to say whether he was driving Saturday night.
Uber prohibits both passengers and drivers from possessing guns of any kind in a vehicle. Anyone found to be in violation of the policy may be prohibited from using or driving for the service.
A man who knows Dalton said he was a married father of two who never showed any signs of violence.
Gary Pardo Jr. told The Associated Press that Dalton is “a family man that for all intents and purposes seemed to stick with his family.”
Pardo’s parents live across the street from Dalton in Kalamazoo Township.
Dalton was in contact with more than one person during the rampage, authorities said, but they would not elaborate. Prosecutors said they do not expect to charge anyone else.
“There’s no common denominator with any of these,” Matyas said.
“This person was just waiting in the parking lot of the apartment complex. The one at … the dealership, they were looking at cars.
The ones at Cracker Barrel, they were just sitting in their cars.
There is absolutely no common denominator … through race, age, anything.”
Authorities were interviewing Dalton and reviewing his phone.
They did not know if the handgun belonged to him, Getting said.
“This is every community’s nightmare – when you have someone going around just randomly killing people, no rhyme, no reason,” Getting said.
Tammy George said the woman who was shot outside the apartment building is her next-door neighbour. She and her family heard the gunfire, ran outside and saw the woman on the ground.
Four bullets went into a closet of George’s home, she said. Her son, James, was playing video games with two friends a few feet away from where the bullets pierced the wall.
“I checked out the back window and saw a car speeding off,” said James George, 17.
On Sunday morning, Tammy George came outside to clean the parking lot.
“I was worried about the kids coming out and seeing their mom’s blood,” she said. “I cleaned it up. No kid should have to come out and see their parent’s blood on the ground.”
During a Sunday morning news conference, some law enforcement officials wiped teary eyes or got choked up. When the news conference ended, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell and Department of Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley embraced.
The four people killed outside the restaurant were identified as 62-year-old Mary Lou Nye of Baroda and 60-year-old Mary Jo Nye, 68-year-old Barbara Hawthorne and 74-year-old Dorothy Brown, all of Battle Creek.
Police did not release the names of the two victims killed at the car dealership, but Mattawan Consolidated Schools Superintendent Robin Buchler confirmed they were Tyler Smith and his father, Rich.
With a population of about 75,000, Kalamazoo is about 160 miles west of Detroit. It is home to Western Michigan University and the headquarters of popular craft beer maker Bell’s Brewery. The city also is known for the anonymously funded Kalamazoo Promise program, which has paid college tuition of students who graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools for more than a decade.