Friends, colleagues remember those slain in Kalamazoo area
Mourners packed a church in Kalamazoo last night to honor the victims of a shooting rampage in the Michigan community that left six dead. TV station WXYZ reports First Baptist Church was filled to standing room only within minutes of opening its doors. Jason Dalton, a 45-year-old Uber driver, has been charged with six counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder in the attack.
A dedicated teacher who mentored numerous students. A gardener who enjoyed sharing what she grew. A mother known for her pleasant demeanor even when faced with adversity. A high school senior who always had a smile on his face, and others.
These are the ways friends and colleagues are remembering the victims of a shooting rampage in western Michigan. Four of them were killed in two vehicles Saturday outside of a restaurant, while a father and son were shot at a car dealership. Two were injured.
Below are some of their stories.
MARY JO NYE
Mary Jo Nye, a 60-year-old retired English teacher, served as "a motherly figure" to students at an alternative high school for at-risk teens, coaching even the most reluctant ones to become better writers.
The Battle Creek, Michigan, resident would work one-on-one with students to get them to open up verbally, then put their thoughts on paper and structure them into written compositions, said Tara Egnatuk, assistant director of the Calhoun Community High School where Nye worked.
While Nye didn't have children of her own, she played an important role in the lives of students.
"She was an English teacher, but she was a lot more than that to the students who don't come from great home lives," said Egnatuk, who was mentored by Nye during their six years of working together. "She really had a position of mentorship, kind of a motherly figure for a lot of these kids."
Since retiring, Nye enjoyed quilting, playing Scrabble and volunteering at her church while continuing to tutor students, Egnatuk said. Nye had also worked previously as a literacy specialist for the state of Michigan.
A Michigan State Police news release said Nye was shot in the driver's seat of a Chevrolet Cruze, while two of her passengers were killed and another was wounded. The driver of a nearby minivan, 62-year-old Mary Lou Nye of Baroda, whom Egnatuk believes was Nye's sister-in-law, was also killed.
"I'm getting calls and emails and messages from former students who are just devastated," Egnatuk said.
Cheryl Chubinski, a school secretary who knew Nye for 20 years, said Nye would bring in a sewing machine, do cooking demonstrations and show students how to make homemade gifts at Christmas. Helping students believe in themselves was a greater reward than monetary compensation for her friend, Chubinski said.
MARY LOU NYE
Mary Lou Nye maintained a positive outlook even when dealing with adversity such as rebuilding a house heavily damaged by a tornado, her neighbor said.
The 63-year-old lived with her husband, Chris, on property that had been in his family for many years, said Carol Dinges, who lives across the street in Baroda. After the tornado about five years ago, the couple had to live in their camper while the house was being fixed, but Dinges said her neighbor took it in stride.
"Every time I spoke with her, she was just pleasant," she said.
Nye worked at one time as a manager in a driver's license office, Dinges said.
The couple had two sons, though one had died at a young age from a heart ailment, Dinges said.
Nye enjoyed going on camping trips several times a year with her husband, Dinges said. The neighbors would watch each other's houses on the farmland-lined road during trips.
Nye worked part time in recent years in the preschool and childcare program at Immanuel Lutheran Ministries in Bridgman, just a few miles from Baroda. Pastor Jon Bendewald said she always had a smile on her face and was loved by the children she worked with.
"It was never about her, always about making sure things were right for the children," he said.
After Dorothy Brown moved in two doors down from Patrick Mallon Jr. in Battle Creek about 10 years ago, the woman everyone knew as Judy would stop by to share herbs she had grown in her garden, her neighbor said.
Mallon recounted how Brown was thrilled when his granddaughters went to her home to give her tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers they had grown.
Brown would always wave and say hello when she drove off to the mall, where she walked for exercise, Mallon said. He added that whenever he and his wife went on vacation, it was Brown they would ask to keep an eye on the house and feed their cat.
And, he said, after it snowed he would make sure to shovel in front of her home — something she'd always appreciate.
"She would give us a gift card to a nice restaurant, something like that," he said.
Mallon said Brown, 74, had two grown sons, with one living in California and the other in Florida.
RICHARD and TYLER SMITH
A western Michigan school superintendent said her tight-knit community is mourning the loss of senior Tyler Smith, a 17-year-old who always had a "smile on his face."
Smith was killed Saturday night along with his father, 53-year-old Richard Smith, outside of a Kalamazoo car dealership.
Tyler Smith spent half of each school day at a technical center focusing on marketing, Mattawan Consolidated Schools Superintendent Robin Buchler said. She added that her son, also a senior, described Tyler Smith as "well-liked" with a constant "smile on his face."
Strong and fast, Tyler once played soccer for Chris Keenan's Portage-based Kingdom Sports.
"He was a very talented soccer player," Keenan told The Battle Creek Enquirer. "A great teammate to everybody on the team and just ... at the end of the day, an exemplary young man. You could see his potential. You could see that he, both on and off the field, had potential."
Tyler Smith and his father were ambushed while looking at vehicles after-hours at the dealership, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette.
One of the business owners told the newspaper surveillance cameras showed the attacker approached before they had much time to react.
Barbara Hawthorne, 68, spent 22 years with Battle Creek-based Kellogg before retiring in 2008, the company's chairman said in a statement.
"We are deeply saddened by these tragic events and brokenhearted to learn that one of the victims, Barbara Hawthorne, belonged to our Kellogg family," John Bryant said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Barbara's family and friends, as well as all of the victims of this crime and their families."
A relative reached by The AP declined to be interviewed.
The parents of a teenager who was a passenger in the same car as Hawthorne say the 68-year-old was a grandmother figure to their daughter.
Vicki Kopf told the Battle Creek Enquirer that Hawthorne, whom she referred to as "Grandma Barb," wasn't a blood relative but was very close to her family, including 14-year-old Abigail, who was critically injured in the attack.
"She took both my girls under her wing and has basically raised them both with us," Vicki Kopf said.
Authorities say 25-year-old Tiana Carruthers' actions protected several children at the site of Saturday's first shooting. Carruthers, of Kalamazoo, was outside with three or four children at an apartment complex's playground when a man approached them in a car, Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller told The Associated Press.
She sensed trouble and put herself between the car and the children, telling them to run to their nearby home, Fuller said.
Carruthers was shot was shot multiple times and severely injured. She survived, but has had surgeries, he added.
Abigail Kopf, a "strong-willed" 14-year-old, is on a ventilator in critical condition after being wounded in the attacks, her parents and doctor say.
Kopf's parents, Gene and Vicki Kopf, held a news conference Monday night along with Dr. Aaron Lane-Davies of Bronson Children's Hospital. Lane-Davies said that although Abigail remains critically ill, "we are encouraged by her relative stability over the last several days and her responsiveness to her parents and our team."
Authorities originally believed Abigail was among those killed in the attacks. Michigan State Police say she was a passenger in a car Mary Jo Nye was driving. Vicki Kopf said Hawthorne, another passenger in the car, was a grandmother figure to Abigail.
Lane-Davies said Abigail's heart beat stopped during attempts to save her life, but it was restored. An organ donation service was contacted with her parents' permission, though she was never declared medically brain dead, he said.
Her parents were making arrangements to donate her organs when the girl squeezed her mother's hand, State Police Lt. Dale Hinz said, relaying a story Vicki Kopf told him.
"They then called in the doctor and he asked her a question and wanted a thumbs-up in response," Hinz said. "And she gave him two thumbs up. It's a glimmer of hope in this otherwise tragic situation."
Gene Kopf said in a prepared statement that Abigail is "strong-willed and loves to have fun."
She is athletic and loves musicals and animals, especially sharks and wolves, he said.
Abigail "has a long road ahead" but is fighting for her life, her father said.
The night of the shooting, Abigail had attended a performance with Hawthorne and friends of Hawthorne's, Gene Kopf said.
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