Michigan communities pause to remember Kalamazoo victims

Mourners in Kalamazoo, Mich., remembered the lives of six shooting victims, as two more recover in the hospital. 

Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters
A memorial near the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Kalamazoo, Mich., Monday. The restaurant was one shooting site in a seemingly random series of attacks on February 20 that left six people dead and two injured.

Residents in Kalamazoo, Mich., struggled throughout the weekend to come to terms with a seemingly random shooting rampage on Saturday, devastating families of the six teachers, neighbors, classmates, and loved ones killed as two survivors fought to recover.

Suspect Jason Dalton, an Uber driver and former insurance adjustor who lived near Kalamazoo with his family, has been charged with six counts of murder, two counts of assault with intent to murder, and eight firearms charges. Mr. Dalton is being held without bail as prosecutors investigate the evening-long spree that left six people dead and injured two more. 

So far, investigators have not found any prior connections between Dalton and the victims, or possible motive.

"We are trying to piece together a motive," Kalamazoo Police Safety Chief Jeff Hadley told reporters on Sunday morning. "Honestly, it appears to be completely and totally random."

Several of the victims, however, did know each other: a father and teenage son shopping for a new car, as the young man's girlfriend waited in their old vehicle; and a group of friends and relatives wrapping up their monthly get-together to see a show and enjoy dinner at a Cracker Barrel restaurant.

The attacks began near a Kalamazoo county townhouse, where 25-year-old Tiana Carruthers managed to protect several children outside on the playground, putting herself between Dalton and the kids as she told them to run. Ms. Carruthers survived the shooting, but has had multiple surgeries, Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller told the Associated Press.

A father and son

Four hours later, around 10 p.m., father and son Richard and Tyler Smith were looking at cars after hours outside a Kalamazoo dealership, with 17-year-old Tyler's girlfriend waiting inside their own vehicle, when the two were shot. Tyler's girlfriend survived uninjured. 

"I am so grateful to have been blessed with a sweet, caring, witty, handsome boy for almost 18 years.... so proud of who he had become as a young man," Laurie Smith wrote on Facebook, mourning her husband and son. "I love them more than anything in the universe and am lost without my boys."

Tyler was a talented soccer player and high school senior interested in marketing, whose coach called him "an exemplary young man."

"You could see that he, both on and off the field, had potential," Chris Keenan told reporters.

Beloved teachers and friends

Two teachers were among four women killed outside Cracker Barrel, where they were about to head home after their monthly outing to a show at Western Michigan University's Miller Auditorium.

Mary Lou Nye traveled to Kalamazoo each month to catch up with college roommate and close friend Mary Jo Nye who became her sister-in-law years ago when Mary Lou fell in love with Mary Jo's older brother. Both were killed while sitting in their respective vehicles.

Bart Nye said his mother, who had worked at a Lutheran daycare center for about six years, loved spending time with her grandson.

"It was never about her, always about making sure things were right for the children," Pastor Jon Bendewald, of Immanuel Lutheran Ministries, told the Associated Press.

Mary Jo was "a motherly figure" who helped her students at Calhoun Community High School put their thoughts to paper, coworkers said. 

"She was an English teacher, but she was a lot more than that to the students who don't come from great home lives," assistant director Tara Egnatuk told AP, adding that although Mary Jo had retired, former students had been calling the school "just devastated" to hear of her death. 

The Nyes had gone out to dinner and the show with friends Dorothy Brown, known as "Judy," and Barbara Hawthorne. All four were gunned down in the rampage.

"You couldn't ask for a better neighbor," Daniel Arnold said of Ms. Brown, who was 74. Another of her Battle Creek, Mich., neighbors, Patrick Mallon Jr, remembered her generosity sharing herbs and vegetables from her garden. If he shoveled her driveway, he added, Brown would always slip him a gift certificate. 

Ms. Hawthorne, a former Kellogg employee, was a close friend Abigail knew as "Grandma Barb," the girl's family said. "She took both my girls under her wing and has basically raised them both with us," Vicki Kopf told AP. Hawthorne, a lover of music who "believed to march to your own drummer," as her family said in a statement, shared a love of music and theater with the young woman. Hawthorne was a "true hippie" who had marched for civil rights and recycled with a passion.

A miraculous survival

Abigail Kopf, a 14-year-old family friend of the women killed outside Cracker Barrel, was originally believed to have died at the hospital, but grasped her mother's hand and is now "fighting for her life" on a ventilator, her mother said Monday.

The Kopfs had been prepared to donate their daughter's organs when she suddenly became responsive, squeezing their hands and offering a thumbs-up to doctors' questions. "It’s a glimmer of hope in this otherwise tragic situation," said State Police Lt. Dale Hinz. 

Abigail, the only survivor of the parking lot attack, loves sports, animals, and musicals, her parents said Monday. 

"We have been by Abigail's bedside since this happened," Gene Kopf said from the hospital. "She remains in critical condition fighting for her life. But as we mentioned, she is strong-willed and fighting."

In a Monday statement, the Kopfs also reached out to the Dalton family, who issued their own statement.

"This type of violence has no place in our society, and we express our love and support for everyone involved," they wrote. "We intend to cooperate in every way that we can to help determine why and how this occurred."

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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