Shooting suspect’s family ‘devastated and saddened’

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — During two interviews with police, an Uber driver spoke calmly and matter-of-factly when he acknowledged killing six people and injuring two others, a police official said Monday.

Judge Christopher T. Haenicke speaks via video to Jason Brian Dalton at his arraignment in Kalamazoon Monday afternoon. (Photo By | Katy Batdorff)

What Jason Dalton didn’t say was why.

The lack of a reason continues to bedevil law enforcement officials and a community reeling from the shooting rampage Saturday night.

Dalton, 45, was stoic when he waived his right against self-incrimination and admitted his role in the shootings, said 1st Lt. Chuck Christensen, a detective with the Michigan State Police.

Uber customer: I almost rode with alleged shooter

“He talked just like he was having a regular conversation,” said Christensen.

Based on Dalton’s comments in the two interviews with police, he was charged with 16 counts Monday, including six counts of murder.

He appeared in Kalamazoo District Court via video wearing an orange jump suit and eyeglasses as the charges were read to him.

Asked by the judge whether he wanted an attorney appointed for him, he demurred.

“I would prefer just to remain silent,” he said.

District Judge Christopher Haenicke said he would get him a court-appointed attorney.

The judge also ordered Dalton held without bond at the Kalamazoo County Jail.

Dalton, a married father of two, could be sentenced to up to life in prison if convicted.

His family released a statement that expressed sympathy for the victims and shock at Dalton’s actions.

“There are no words which can express our shock and disbelief,” it read. “This type of violence has no place in our society.”

Meanwhile, several people have claimed they were picked up, but not assaulted, by Dalton during the rampage.

Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said authorities believe Dalton picked up passengers between the first and second shooting incidents. There were three incidents that night.

One passenger, Matt Mellen, told a TV station that, while he was in Dalton’s vehicle an hour before the rampage started, Dalton received a phone call that triggered an angry reaction.

After taking the call, Dalton drove erratically, Mellen told WWMT in Kalamazoo. He sped up, ran through stop signs, drove over lawns and sideswiped cars.

Mellen got out of the car and called police, he said.

Uber acknowledged that it received multiple complaints about Dalton’s driving that night.

Neither Mellen nor police knew what the call to Dalton was about.

Police said Monday they remain stymied over a possible motive.

Dalton apparently didn’t know the victims, said police.

Obama pledges federal support for Kalamazoo probe

“We’re not really any closer to why it happened than we were 10 minutes after it started,” said Kalamazoo Undersheriff Paul Matyas.

He said the law enforcement investigation was immediately hampered by the lack of witnesses beyond the victims.

Law enforcement officials said they found a large cache of guns at Dalton’s home but there was no indication he was prohibited from owning them.

Dalton’s probable cause and arraignment were held between two vigils at downtown Kalamazoo churches Monday.

First Baptist Church, which is next to the Kalamazoo District Court, didn’t hold a vigil. Its marquee read simply: “Pray for our city.”

Flags outside the downtown courthouse were at half-staff while a fledgling memorial was growing at the scene of one of the shootings, a Cracker Barrel parking lot.

At the first vigil, at St. Augustine Catholic Church, 225 people gathered and prayed for the victims.

Before the ceremony, resident Rosalyn Lewis said she didn’t understand how somebody could do such a thing.

“It’s terrible, a mystery,” said the Kalamazoo nurse. “What could the answer be?”

Barbra McCormick also attended the vigil, saying it just as easily could have been her at an auto dealership where two victims were shot.

“I was just there last week,” she said. “It’s so scary. I can’t even imagine.”

The rampage began Saturday night outside the Meadows apartment complex on the eastern edge of Kalamazoo County, said police.

A woman at the apartment complex was shot several times but survived, said law enforcement.

The gunman struck next four hours later at an auto dealership 15 miles from the apartments.

Richard Smith and his son Tyler, 17, were shot and killed at the dealership.

In a Facebook post Monday, Laurie Smith poured out her grief at the loss of her husband and son. “I love them more than anything in the universe and am lost without my boys,” she wrote.

Fifteen minutes after shooting the Smiths, the gunman shot five people in the Cracker Barrel parking lot, said police. Four of the victims died.

Police found 30 bullet shell casings at the three scenes, said the prosecutor, Getting.

He said Dalton used a 9 mm semi-automatic gun, which was found on him when he was arrested.

Getting said Dalton had some type of interaction with the victims right before the shootings but wouldn’t elaborate on what it was. He wouldn’t say whether Dalton said anything to the victims.

Michigan State Police identified the four victims at Cracker Barrel as:

■Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda, Michigan.

■Mary Jo Nye, 60, of Battle Creek.

■Dorothy Brown, 74, of Battle Creek.

■Barbara Hawthorne, 68, of Battle Creek.

Dalton was arrested Sunday in Kalamazoo after he surrendered peacefully.

Neighbors say Dalton lived with his wife and two preteen children in a brown-paneled ranch in rural Kalamazoo County. Dalton’s wife and children were unhurt, authorities said.

Dalton is a former insurance adjuster who police said had no criminal record.

Authorities have been interviewing Dalton and reviewing his phone.

President Barack Obama on Monday pledged “whatever federal support” is needed in the investigation in Kalamazoo. In comments to the National Governors Association in the White House State Dining Room, Obama lamented that “another one of our communities was terrorized by gun violence.”

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell