Faint warnings preceded Kalamazoo rampage

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — Jason Dalton was a good dad and helpful neighbor who seemed happy with his job and marriage, acquaintances said.

He liked cars and guns, and once flirted with the idea of becoming a police officer.

Police have not given a motive, but they say Jason Dalton randomly shot people Feb. 20 between fares as an Uber driver.

And then, during a five-hour period Feb. 20, he allegedly went out and shot eight people, killing six of them, said police.

After his arrest, he went back to being the person everyone knew, politely answering detectives’ questions and, police said, acknowledging that, yes, he was responsible for the carnage.

It has almost become a cliché that, after such an attack, neighbors of the suspect say they had no idea he was capable of such an act.

In Dalton’s case, those feelings were echoed by friends, co-workers and customers from throughout his life, according to interviews.

They described the insurance claims adjuster as a reserved but friendly father of two who led an innocuous existence until that fateful evening.

“If you lined up people you knew and had to pick someone who did this, he would be the last,” said friend Ken Engle of Kalamazoo.

If there was a warning, it was a faint one.

Two days before the shooting spree, Dalton seemed a little down, his wife said through her attorney.

When Carole Dalton asked what was wrong, Dalton said he was tired from his second job, driving for Uber, said the attorney, Paul Vlachos.

Dalton, who was picking up passengers between the shootings, told a customer the same thing, that he was tired, said police.

Like everyone else, Carole Dalton doesn’t know what prompted the shooting, said Vlachos.

“We’re all looking for an answer,” he said. “I wish we had one.”

‘Never in trouble’

Law enforcement officials are parsing Dalton’s life for clues that may explain why a mild-mannered man allegedly exploded with rage Feb. 20.

So far, they have come up empty.

Dalton, 45, grew up an only child in Greenfield, a rural community just east of Indianapolis.

His parents were engaged in his life, going to his ballgames and his dad serving as his scoutmaster, said David Pfaff, principal of Eastern Hancock High School in Charlottesville.

Dalton was a good student and good athlete who played on the football, wrestling and track teams at the school.

Pfaff, who was Dalton’s assistant football coach, said he worked hard and always had a positive attitude.

“He was a good boy from a good family,” said Pfaff. “He was never in trouble, exactly the opposite of what you would think with how he ended up.”

While he was in high school, Dalton and his family moved to Kalamazoo so his dad could work for the General Motors plant there, said friends.

Dalton graduated from Comstock High School in 1989 and earned an associate degree in criminal justice from Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

He wanted to become a police officer but couldn’t find a job close to home, said friend Andrew Jamieson of Hickory Corners.

Instead Dalton became an auto body technician, Jamieson said

“He was good at anything he tried,” said Jamieson, who was Dalton’s best man at his wedding in 1995.

Dalton became an insurance adjuster in the late 1990s, working for State Farm Insurance until 2001 and Progressive until 2011, said the companies.

At the time of the shooting, he was an adjuster for Michigan Appraisal Company in Kentwood, making $50,000 a year, according to court records.

Carole Dalton is a sales assistant with Raymond James financial services, earning $40,000 a year, the court records show.

The killing of six people came as a shock to the community, which mourned the deaths with vigils and at funerals.

‘He liked his guns’

Once he stopped playing sports, Dalton let go of his once-chiseled physique. He was 5 feet, 6 inches tall and 200 pounds at the time of his arrest, according to police records.

But he still cared about his appearance, sporting a goatee and styled hair in his mug shot.

The autoworker’s son has always been interested in cars, said friends. Prized possessions from his past include a Chevrolet Camaro and a Hummer SUV.

In his woodsy neighborhood, he spent Friday evenings tinkering with old jalopies in a three-bay garage next to his ranch-style home, said neighbors.

During conversations, he often steered the talk toward automobiles.

“He loved working on cars,” said Gary Pardo Sr., who lived across the street. “He worked on cars a lot.”

Dalton’s other passion was guns, said friends and acquaintances.

He liked going to gun shows and the gun range, they said.

In his yard, he sometimes fired his weapons for hours at a time, including late at night, said neighbors.

After one burst of nocturnal fireworks, he told neighbors he was scaring off a would-be burglar, they said.

“He liked his guns, no doubt,” said neighbor Ray Ramsey. “But you never thought something like this would happen.”

When 14 people were killed in San Bernardino during a terrorist attack in December, Dalton told a friend he was worried the shooting would lead to restrictions on gun rights, WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids reported last week.

After the Kalamazoo shooting, police said they removed four handguns and 11 long firearms, mostly rifles, from Dalton’s home.

‘Such a nice guy’

Dalton’s marriage of 20 years seemed free of major strife, said friends.

Finances weren’t a problem, said Vlachos. Dalton and his wife were employed much of the past two decades.

Dalton was a devoted dad to his two children, taking them for rides on his lawn tractor, said neighbors.

He was proud his 15-year-old son was doing well in school, and tickled that his 10-year-old daughter liked working on cars with him, they said.

“They were a normal family,” said Pardo’s wife, Sally. “He was such a nice guy.”

Many people who had dealings with Dalton liked him.

With one friend, he freely dispensed advice on car repairs. With another, he gave him parts for his 1955 Chevrolet.

Normally reticent, he could become downright chatty, especially if the conversation drifted to cars or guns, they said.

“He had the gift of gab. He could turn a 10-minute conversation into 45 minutes” said friend James Block. “He was just a good guy.”

When Dalton began working for Uber Jan. 25, it made for long days.

Finishing work as an insurance adjuster in the afternoon, he ferried people around at night.

But he didn’t mind, said friends. He liked to drive.

Also, he was making enough money for a trip that, given what happened during a horrific February night, is no longer a possibility.

He was going to take his family to Disney World.


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Twitter: @francisXdonnell