Kalamazoo victims mourned: ‘It makes no sense’

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — A devoted dad. A teen brimming with potential. A free spirit who marched to her own drummer. A teacher who coaxed at-risk kids into becoming writers. A woman who used her retirement to work with babies. A woman who used her retirement to help the elderly figure out their finances.

They’re the victims of the Kalamazoo shooter whose lives ended Saturday night in a flash of violence that remains as inexplicable today as it was four days ago.

As friends and family recalled the best things about their loved ones, residents couldn’t shut out the ways those lived ended.

For however long, residents won’t be able to remember their friends without thinking about the accused shooter, Jason Brian Dalton, jailed on charges of murder and attempted murder.

“It makes no sense,” said Tom Wainwright of Kalamazoo.

Wainwright was in the middle of talking about one of the victims, Richard Smith, when he got sidetracked by the nightmare that Saturday turned into.

Smith and his son, Tyler, 17, were gunned down at a car dealership.

Wainwright knew Smith because their children played soccer together; he said Smith was a regular presence at the games.

“He was his son’s biggest fan,” said Wainwright.

Smith was there for his son and his wife, said his wife, Laurie, in a Facebook post.

“(Richard was my) best friend, my rock and I’m lost without you,” she wrote.

The killings have garnered national attention, including in the halls of Congress. Members of Michigan’s congressional delegation gathered on the floor of the U.S. House Tuesday night to lead a moment of silence for the Kalamazoo victims.

“This tragedy will not define us,” said Republican Rep. Fred Upton, whose district includes Kalamazoo. “It will not divide us. And it will not defeat us. We are Kalamazoo.”

‘Exemplary young man’

Tyler Smith made his dad smile with his quick moves on the soccer field.

But sports wasn’t his only talent, said friends.

He was a level-headed teen whose positive attitude spread to others, said Chris Kennan, who coached him on the Kingdom Sports team.

“He was a great teammate and an exemplary young man,” said Kennan.

Tyler Smith was attending a technical school for entrepreneur marketing, said friends.

They described him as popular, polite with a never-ending smile.

Laurie Smith said she was proud of the man her son was becoming. “I am so grateful to have been blessed with a sweet, caring, witty, handsome boy,” she wrote on Facebook.

‘One of the sweetest’

Barbara Hawthorne was a retired transportation analyst with Kellogg, which sounds like an awfully somber job.

Don’t be fooled, said her family.

Hawthorne, 68, of Battle Creek was anything but somber.

As a youth, she marched for civil rights in the South, relatives said in a statement. She recycled everything that came through her household. If she had an extra ticket for a play or concert, you would have the ticket.

They called her Auntie Barb.

“She was a true hippie and believed in marching to your own drummer,” the relatives wrote in a statement.

It wasn’t clear whether Hawthorne was ever married or had children.

What was clear is that people who knew her felt like family.

She was never happier than sitting at a table surrounded by her crochet or euchre group, said friends.

“Hawthorne was one of the sweetest and perhaps purely gentle people I came across,” a former Kellogg co-worker, Debbie Evans, wrote on her Facebook page.

‘A touch of heaven’

Trying to get teens to express their thoughts on paper is difficult.

Trying to get them to share the thoughts when they can’t read and are about to drop out of school is nearly impossible.

But that’s what Mary Jo Nye did regularly as an English teacher, said friends.

Nye, 60, of Battle Creek taught at Calhoun Community High School, an alternative high school.

“Knowing Mary Jo was a touch of heaven for anyone who knew her,” said a friend, Bruce Phillips.

Nye never had any children but treated students like her own, said co-workers.

Her patient was infinite as she gently coaxed struggling students to jot their thoughts onto paper.

“She did anything she could to help them,” said Brian Demlow, who worked with Nye for 10 years.

Nye retired in 2011 but continued to attend graduations, said school officials. Those graduates carried a little bit of Nye with them as they left the school.

Volunteer with babies

Mary Lou Nye, who is Nye’s sister-in-law, was a longtime branch manager with the Michigan Secretary of State who retired in 2010. But that wasn’t the end of her work life.

What brought her back to the workforce? Babies.

One year after retirement, Nye began helping Immanuel Lutheran Ministries in Bridgman with daycare facility, said Pastor Jon Bendewald.

Nye, 63, of Baroda was in her element, said the pastor. “She was always willing to do whatever was asked,” he said.

Working with the ministry’s preschool director, Nye also prepared food and even did some janitorial work, said Bendewald.

Nye had her fair share of trouble in life but never let it get her down, said friends.

Her home was damaged by a tornado five years ago, a neighbor told the Associated Press. One of her two sons died from a heart ailment at a young age.

Despite the tribulations, Nye maintained a positive outlook, said the neighbor, Carol Dinges. “Every time I spoke with her, she was just pleasant,” she said.

‘She was always up’

For some, paying the bills and dealing with the elderly might not be their favorite pursuits.

Put them together and Judy Brown was in heaven.

At Guardian Finance and Advocacy Services in Battle Creek, she loved helping older clients manage their finances, said Guardian chief executive Dave Kirby.

She would sit with them at their kitchen table, drinking coffee and helping them pay their bills. “She loved the work,” said Kirby.

Brown, 74, who retired last year, lived alone in Battle Creek but didn’t seem lonely, said neighbors. Her first name was Dorothy, but everyone knew her as Judy, her middle name.

She frequently greeted them with a wave and big smile, they said.

“I don’t think I ever saw her not smile,” said neighbor Pamela Clark. “She was always up.”


Twitter: @francisXdonnell

Melissa Nann Burke contributed.