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A year later, Kalamazoo shooting survivors struggling

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — A year after Abbie Kopf was shot in the head, the blast continues to reverberate through her life.

Calm reigns in downtown Kalamazoo a year after the killings. Jason Dalton, charged with the shooting spree, faces a March court hearing.

Earlier this month, the 15-year-old underwent yet another operation, this time to reinsert a plastic plate in her head. Last month, her blood pressure fell dangerously low and she had difficulty speaking and remembering things, her parents said on Facebook.

As Monday marks the first anniversary of a shooting spree that killed six people and injured two, the other survivor is faring better.

Tiana Carruthers, 26, has gone from a bed to a wheelchair to a walker to walking on her own, she said. The good days are beginning to outnumber the bad.

Abbie Kopf has not returned to school a year after she was shot in the head in a Kalamazoo rampage that killed six people.

“I’m still struggling but it’s getting better,” she told The Detroit News last week.

Meanwhile, Jason Dalton, charged with inflicting the carnage, moves ever so slowly toward a possible trial.

A court hearing is scheduled March 9 on a motion to prevent prosecutors from using statements he gave police after the shootings. Dalton, an Uber driver, said the Uber app on his iPhone turned into a devil’s head and controlled his actions during the shooting spree.

As for Kalamazoo, which experienced two calamities in the past year, including five cyclists killed by a pickup in June, residents will observe the shooting’s anniversary with a candlelight vigil Monday.

During the vigil at Wings Event Center, local officials will discuss plans to erect a memorial for the victims of the twin tragedies.

Kalamazoo resident Christine Gray, who knew several of the people killed in the shooting rampage, said the healing process is a long one and public get-togethers like the vigil help ease it along.

“We’re all hurting, whether you knew someone or not,” she said. “That tragedy affected every one of us.”

It seems like the entire city is following Kopf’s medical treatment, based on the number of messages received by a Facebook page monitoring her progress.

It’s a wonder she’s even alive, residents said last week. Her heart stopped after a bullet struck the frontal lobe of her brain, doctors had said. When the once-bedridden teen began to walk again, the miracle seemed complete.

But the journey has taken a darker turn in the past eight months, her parents, Gene and Vickie Kopf, said on the Facebook page, “Abbie Kopf’s Recovery.” They couldn’t be reached for this story.

In June doctors had to remove the plate just a month after inserting it because of an infection. She needs a plate to cover part of her skull shattered by the bullet.

During the months without a plate, Kopf wore a customized motorcycle helmet to protect her vulnerable brain, according to the Facebook page. She doesn’t like the helmet, but a local motorcycle shop made it more palatable by giving it a Batman theme.

“Here’s an update on Abbie Kopf. She is not doing very well,” her parents wrote Jan. 4, describing her speech and memory struggles.

Kopf hasn’t returned to school since the shooting. Now, with the recent surgery, her next few weeks will be full of doctor’s appointments.

After Kopf’s latest hospital stay, her mother had some good news to report last week.

“My baby Abigail is home,” wrote Vickie.

‘In therapy all the time’

Yes, Carruthers survived the shooting rampage and, yes, she’s doing better than Kopf, but she hardly feels lucky.

One of the four bullets that struck Tiana Carruthers last year remains in her liver, but the 26-year-old now is walking on her own again.

“Lucky” normally doesn’t have metal rods in her left arm and both femurs. “Lucky” doesn’t limp and have trouble raising her arm above her shoulder.

One of the four bullets that struck Carruthers remains in her liver.

“I’m in therapy all the time,” she said. “It’s like a full-time job.”

Along with the physical scars are the invisible ones, which snuck up on her. She said she frequently feels scared, skittish.

When she testified at Dalton’s preliminary exam in May, she began to wail when Dalton tried to stand and jostled with deputies. If the case goes to trial, she doesn’t relish the prospect of returning to the courtroom.

On top of everything else, her brother Anthony Lamb was fatally shot outside a Holland bar in September.

“It’s hard to talk about,” she said about the past year. “That’s my life now.”

But Carruthers has resolved to fight through her travails.

She feels like God spared her for a reason and she plans to make the most of it. She owes it to herself and her 8-year-old daughter, Kaniya Whyte.

She has no idea what she’s going to do with her second chance but feels it will be something big.

Insanity defense

During the March 9 court hearing in Kalamazoo Circuit Court, Dalton’s defense attorney Eusebio Solis will argue that his statements to police should be suppressed because police continued to question him after he asked for an attorney.

Once the hearing is over, the judge could set a trial date. The setting of a date has been delayed by Dalton’s trips to a psychiatrist.

Jason Dalton

His first visits to the Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry were to assess his state of mind, to see if he could assist in his defense.

Then, after Solis decided to use an insanity defense, Dalton returned to the center so doctors could delve into his thinking at the time of the shootings, to see if he knew the difference between right and wrong.

Dalton, who is being held without bond at the Kalamazoo County Jail, is charged with six counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and eight firearm counts, according to court records. He can be sentenced to up to life in prison.

After the shooting, friends and neighbors described Dalton as reserved but friendly. He was married with two children, but his wife has since filed for divorce. He was an insurance claims adjuster who earned some extra cash by driving for Uber.

One of the bizarre aspects of the shooting is that Dalton ferried Uber passengers around town between the alleged shootings, said passengers and police.

The indiscriminate attacks occurred over a five-hour period at an apartment complex, car dealership and Cracker Barrel restaurant.

Carruthers, who was the first person shot, was outside her apartment with six children. She shooed them to safety before being felled by the gunfire.

Five hours later, Kopf and four women were shot in the restaurant parking lot. All four women died. Between the shootings of Carruthers and Kopf, a father and son were killed at the car dealership.

Two hours after the last shooting, Dalton was arrested when police, responding to witness descriptions of the gunman’s car, pulled him over.

Killed in the attacks were Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda; Richard Smith, 53, and his son Tyler, 17, of Mattawan; and Mary Jo Nye, 60, Dorothy “Judy” Brown, 74, and Barbara Hawthorne, 68, all of Battle Creek.

fdonnelly@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell