Victims identified in Kalamazoo shootings; suspect was Uber driver

Feb 21, 2016

Jason Dalton
Credit Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Dept

Update 5:38 p.m.:

The suspect in the Kalamazoo shootings, Jason Dalton, picked up at least one group of Uber passengers after he allegedly shot six people and injured two.

NPR has spoken with an Uber rider who asked us to only use his middle name, Derek, because he's concerned about speaking publicly about this shooting investigation.

Derek says Dalton drove him, his wife and parents-in-law from a brewery to a hotel after midnight on Saturday.

When he got into Dalton's car, Derek says he knew that police were looking for a shooter.

Derek tells NPR: "I jokingly said to the driver, 'You aren't the shooter, are you?' And he either shook his head or said no, and I said, 'Are you sure?' And his response wasn't like what you would expect, like a laugh, like a 'No, not me.' It was just very calm and quiet. 'I'm just tired. No, I'm just tired.' "

Dalton drove away almost immediately after he dropped the passengers outside a hotel, Derek says. Police stopped Dalton in his car about 20 minutes later, according to Michigan State Police.

Update 5:23 p.m.:

The two remaining victims in last night's shooting rampage have been identified.

They are Richard Eugene Smith, age 53, and Tyler Daniel Smith, age 17, from Kalamazoo. The father and son were gunned down at a Kia dealership inside their car.

Update 1:04 p.m.:

A spokesperson for Uber confirms to NPR that the suspect in the Kalamazoo shootings, Jason Dalton, is an Uber driver. Uber declined to comment further but released this statement from their chief security officer, Joe Sullivan:

"We are horrified and heartbroken at the senseless violence in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims of this devastating crime and those recovering from injuries. We have reached out to the police to help with their investigation in any way that we can."

Update 12:35 p.m.:

Police have released the names of four of the victims in yesterday's shootings. They are:

  • Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda, Mich.
  • Mary Jo Nye, 60, of Battle Creek, Mich.
  • Dorothy Brown, 74, of Battle Creek, Mich.
  • Barbara Hawthorne, 68, of Battle Creek, Mich.

A 14-year-old is currently in critical condition at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo. 

The names of the other two victims have not yet been released.

Updated 10:37 a.m.

A gunman who authorities believe chose victims at random shot people in the parking lots of a western Michigan apartment complex, car dealership and restaurant, killing at least six and seriously injuring two others - including a 14-year-old girl - during a rampage and subsequent manhunt that spanned nearly seven hours, authorities said.

But authorities still cannot say what may have prompted 45 -year-old Jason Dalton of Kalamazoo County, who has no criminal record, to randomly prey on victims who had no connection to him.

"How do we go and tell the families of these victims that they weren't targeted for any reason other than they were there to be a target?" Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said during a Sunday morning news conference.

Dalton was arrested early Sunday in downtown Kalamazoo following a massive manhunt after the shootings began early Saturday evening. Getting said Dalton, who is being held at the county jail, is expected to be arraigned Monday afternoon in a Kalamazoo County courtroom, where he likely will face multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Kalamazoo County Undersheriff Paul Matyas described a terrifying rampage that began about 6 p.m. outside the Meadows Apartment complex in Richland Township, on the eastern edge of Kalamazoo County, where a woman was shot multiple times and seriously wounded.  Authorities said she is expected to survive.

A little more than four hours later and 15 miles away, a father and his 18-year-old son were fatally shot while looking at cars at the dealership. Fifteen minutes after that, five people - including the teenage girl who police originally said had been killed, based on a pronouncement by medical officials - were gunned down in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant along Interstate 94, Matyas said.

Police said Sunday morning the injured teen remained in serious condition.

Matyas said authorities did not believe the shootings were targeted at specific people, describing them as "our worst-case scenario."

"These are random murders," he said.

Dalton was arrested in a neighborhood about 12:40 a.m. after a deputy spotted his vehicle driving through downtown Kalamazoo after he left a bar parking lot, authorities said. Matyas said Dalton did not resist when approached by law enforcement officers, and a semi-automatic handgun was discovered in his car. Matyas declined to disclose anything else police may have found in the vehicle.

"We had no problem with him," Matyas said of Dalton's apprehension. "In this particular case, we're just thankful it ended the way it did - before he could really kill anybody else."

Authorities said Dalton was in contact with more than one people during the ongoing rampage but would not elaborate about what kind of communication that involved. Prosecutors said they do not believe anyone else will be charged.

"There's no common denominator with any of these," Matyas said, before detailing each shooting. "This person was just waiting in the parking lot of the apartment complex. The one at ... the dealership, they were looking at cars. The ones at Cracker Barrel, they were just sitting in their cars. "There is absolutely no common denominator ... through race, age, anything."

Matyas declined to offer a possible motive. Getting said authorities are interviewing Dalton and reviewing his phone. He said they do not know if the handgun belonged to Dalton or was registered to him.

 "This is every community's nightmare - when you have someone going around just randomly killing people, no rhyme, no reason," Matyas said. "Obviously, we're going to interview the individual and we're hoping to gather... what he was thinking, what type of methodology he used, if any, in these killings."

Getting was flanked by several law enforcement officials during Sunday morning's news conference, some of whom wiped tear-filled eyes or who had to momentarily stop speaking after becoming choked up. Following the news conference, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell and Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley embraced.

 "It's hard to put into words the impact something like this has," Getting said. "How do we put an end to the fear this is causing? There's this sense of loss, there's this anger, there's fear. There's all these emotions."

Kalamazoo, with a population of about 75,000, is about 160 miles west of Detroit. It is home to Western Michigan University and the headquarters of popular craft beer maker Bell's Brewery. The city also is known for the anonymously funded Kalamazoo Promise program, which has paid college tuition of students who graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools for more than a decade.