By Mark Guarino, Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Uber driver authorities say fatally shot six people during a series of seemingly random attacks over the weekend was charged with murder Monday as questions swirled around the bloody rampage.
Jason Brian Dalton made “incriminating statements” after his arrest, but did not directly confess to the shootings, Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley said Monday.
Investigators continue to look for a motive in the shooting, but so far detectives have not found any explanation, Hadley said.
“That is honestly the most baffling part of it,” Hadley said. “Aside from some anecdotal things, there is nothing we can put our finger on and say that’s why.”
Residents here have reeled since this city of about 75,000 people joined the ever-growing list of American communities riven by a shooting rampage, a group that since last year has grown to include San Bernardino, Calif.; Roseburg, Ore.; and Charleston, S.C.
“It’s happened everywhere and now we got a piece of it,” said Sherry Rush, 59, who lives several doors down from the townhome where police say the first victim was shot.
While other mass shootings have erupted in seemingly safe locations — a movie theater, a school, a company holiday party — the shootings here were mobile, gunshots allegedly fired by a man who authorities and Uber riders say kept seeking fares after the bloodshed began.
According to authorities, Dalton shot eight people in three different locations over the course of four hours on Saturday, with the final shooting occurring in a Cracker Barrel parking lot shortly after 10 p.m. Six of the victims died. The other two — including a teenaged girl — were seriously injured.
Hadley said authorities have interviewed Dalton’s wife and children, and intend to interview the last 14 people Dalton transported in his car, using a list from Uber. Hadley described the company as “very cooperative” and said interviews with the passengers could give police “insight into [Dalton’s] behavior and state of mind.”
In a conference call with reporters, Uber officials said Dalton began driving for the company in late January. After giving more than 100 rides, he had a rating of 4.73 out of 5 stars.
Joe Sullivan, the company’s chief security officer, declined to give a precise timeline of Dalton’s fares on Saturday, nor would they say when they were alerted to Dalton’s erratic behavior behind the wheel that evening.
In the aftermath of the attacks, no apparent connections emerged tying the accused shooter and the victims, who included a high school senior and his father looking at cars and a mother of three standing in front of her apartment. Police said the youngest people injured and killed were teenagers, while the oldest victim was 74-year-old Dorothy Brown of Battle Creek.
One city official called the rampage “unexplainable.” A county official described it as “bizarre,” a sentiment echoed by Jessica Borden, who stood behind the counter of a rural convenience store not far from the accused gunman’s home and where he had been a regular.
Then Borden sighed and added: “But maybe it’s not so much of a surprise the way the world is nowadays.”
Dalton, 45, appeared in a small Kalamazoo courtroom through a closed-circuit television feed Monday for his arraignment on 16 counts stemming from the rampage. In addition to six murder charges, Dalton also faces eight counts of possessing a firearm during a felony and two counts of “assault with intent to murder,” according to a complaint filed in court and signed by Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting.
If convicted, Dalton faces up to life in prison; Michigan does not have the death penalty.
In a statement, Getting called the filing of charges “the first step,” adding that “the investigation is not over and the search for answers will continue.” In an interview, Getting added that Dalton had “acknowledged his involvement in each of these incidents” in interviews with authorities.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit and glasses, Dalton stared ahead and did not visibly react as the charges against him were read aloud and the names of the victims recited. He said he understood the charges against him and was denied bail.
When he was offered a chance to speak at the hearing’s conclusion, Dalton responded by quietly saying, “I would prefer just to remain silent.”
After that, he was led away and the hearing concluded.
Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said he has cautioned residents not to focus too much of the motive. “In the end, no matter what we find out, we’ve still got a tragic event, and I want people to focus on how to take care of one another,” he said.
Fuller said that while the community has seen homicides with multiple victims and other tragedies, the deliberate calculation of these shootings was unprecedented.
“It’s shocking. It’s a suspect killing people indiscriminately,” Fuller said. “It’s not something we’re ever going to be able to understand or answer with satisfaction. We just have to work with what we have left.”
Gov. Rick Snyder (R) called the shootings “senseless” and ordered flags in the state to be flown at half-staff through Sunday, one day for each of the people killed. An interfaith service was set for Monday night at First Congregational Church, to be followed by a candlelight vigil at nearby Bronson Park.
Across the street from Dalton’s home, Gary Pardo Jr. stood on the porch of his family’s farmhouse and worried about his parents, who were inside. “The world is shrinking in terms of the areas they can trust,” Pardo Jr. said.”This has really shrunk that down even more. Now it’s in their neighborhood.”
Kalamazoo is an industrial town on the upswing, home to the popular Bell’s Brewery and an economic renaissance that has rejuvenated its downtown and brought a vibrant culinary and arts scene. Many here say Kalamazoo has fallen on hard times before and will eventually survive this tragedy.
“It’s a very strong city,” said Brendan Davis, a chef at Bell’s Brewery. But “we’re in shock,” he added.
Erin Knott, 41, a member of the city commission, said that when she heard the news Saturday night, “I honestly felt like I was punched in the stomach. I just thought that this can’t be happening here.”
On Monday, President Obama called Kalamazoo’s mayor, sheriff and police chief and offered “whatever federal support they needed in their investigation.” Obama also mentioned the shooting in remarks at the White House Monday morning to the National Governors Association, tying it to his renewed calls for stricter gun regulations.
Noting that 14 people died in a mass shooting last December in San Bernardino, Obama added: “Here’s a hard truth: We probably lost more Americans than that to guns this weekend alone.”
Since the shooting rampage Saturday, at least two other people in Kalamazoo have been shot, according to police. A man was shot four times during what authorities described as an attempted robbery at 9 p.m. on Sunday, suffering non-life-threatening wounds.
More than two hours later, a woman was shot twice and told police her boyfriend had assaulted her before shooting her. She also suffered non-life-threatening wounds, and police said they were searching for a 22-year-old suspect, who ran away before police arrived.
Earlier this year, Obama announced modest new gun restrictions in an emotional public speech, and on Monday he referred to these steps as intended to “make it harder for dangerous individuals” to get guns.
“We’ve got to do more to keep Americans safe,” Obama said Monday. “I’m sure all of you are as tired of this as I am.”
Obama said Kalamazoo officials “did an outstanding job in apprehending the individuals very quickly, but you have families that are shattered today.”
For some in Kalamazoo, the shooting leaves them with a sense of safety forever shaken. Sherry Rush, who lives near the scene of the first reported shooting Saturday, said emergency vehicles lit up her block for hours on Saturday night and news media trucks swarmed the scene on Sunday.
In the five years she lived in her home, she kept her front door open to let in warm breezes and to let her neighbors know they were welcome to stop by. The killing has changed that.
“I was comfortable here,” she said. “No more.”