Jason Brian Dalton’s life was so innocuous, police had never heard of him. Meek and mild-mannered — at times, even polite — is how one Kalamazoo official described him. Neighbors said he was a “real nice guy.” By all accounts, the 45-year-old seemed harmless.
That changed over the weekend when, police said, Dalton went on a shooting rampage in Michigan that left six people dead.
A seventh victim was shot in front of her children, and a 14-year-old girl remains in critical condition.
Even police are baffled as to why Dalton may have committed such violence Saturday night.
“This guy was not on anybody’s radar for any reason,” Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley said. “He didn’t have a lengthy criminal history. He wasn’t a known troublemaker. And yet here he is, having shot eight people and killed six.”
Hadley described Dalton as someone known for his often good manners.
The suspect faces six counts of murder, eight counts of felony firearm possession and two counts of assault with intent to commit murder. If he’s found guilty, the charges command numerous life sentences.
For several hours Saturday, police say, Dalton drove around Kalamazoo County, stopping to shoot people at an apartment complex, a car dealership and restaurant parking lot.
And between the shootings, Dalton picked up and dropped off passengers for Uber, police say.
“He had 14 fares from the time he started Uber, which was Thursday. Our information is that he began on Thursday,” Hadley said.
It’s not clear whether Uber was his only employer, but Progressive Insurance spokesman Jeff Sibel said Dalton was employed with the company until 2011.
Dalton’s family released a statement through an attorney, saying they were “devastated and saddened” for the victims and their families.
“We cannot comprehend the grief which you are feeling, and, while it seems woefully inadequate, we are deeply sorry and are praying for everyone affected,” the statement said.
It continued, “This type of violence has no place in our society, and we express our love and support for everyone involved. We intend to cooperate in every way that we can to help determine why and how this occurred.”
A bizarre Uber ride
Matt Mellen said he rode in Dalton’s car shortly before the rampage started.
“We got about a mile from my house, and he got a telephone call,” Mellen told CNN affiliate WWMT-TV.
“After that call, he started driving erratically, running stop signs. We were kind of driving through medians, driving through the lawn, speeding along and then finally, once he came to a stop, I jumped out of the car and ran away.”
Mellen said he called police. “He was surprisingly calm. I was freaking out.”
Another man, identifying himself only as Derek from the Indianapolis area, told CNN affiliate WOOD-TV that he was at a Kalamazoo pub when he heard about the shootings and decided that he, his wife and in-laws might be better off taking Uber to their hotel rather than walking.
Dalton arrived in a Chevrolet HHR to pick them up, Derek told the station, adding that he sat in the front seat.
“I kind of jokingly said to the driver, ‘You’re not the shooter, are you?’ He gave me some sort of a ‘no’ response. … I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m not. I’m just tired,’ ” Derek told WOOD. “And we proceeded to have a pretty normal conversation after that.”
Uber Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan said Dalton passed a background check. Police also said Dalton did not have a criminal record.
“We are horrified and heartbroken at the senseless violence in Kalamazoo,” Sullivan said. “We have reached out to the police to help with their investigation in any way that we can.”
After an hourslong manhunt, police found Dalton’s vehicle and arrested the suspect. County prosecutor Jeffrey Getting said the alleged gunman was “even-tempered” during his arrest.
‘Your average Joe’
In the suspect’s Kalamazoo neighborhood, residents said they never saw Dalton distressed.
He was “very level and calm, and (a) real nice guy,” Chad Landon told CNN affiliate WXYZ-TV.
For 10 years, Sally and Gary Pardo have lived across the street.
Sally Pardo told CNN that Dalton is married with two children. They seemed to be a “typical American family,” she said.
“We’re in shock. We’re wondering what might have caused him to do this (to) all those innocent families and the victims,” Gary Pardo told WXYZ. “It’s just horrific.”
Dalton did have an obvious passion, Pardo said: “I know he liked guns.”
Although there is no record of him working as a cop, CNN has learned that Dalton attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College and graduated with an associate degree in law enforcement in 1992.
Hadley, the public safety chief, said authorities seized 15 weapons from Dalton’s home — 11 long guns and four handguns.
“For all intents and purposes, he was your average Joe,” Hadley said. “This was random.”
Why the suspect may have driven around his community, gunning people down randomly, remains a mystery.
“We just can’t figure out the motive,” Hadley said. “There’s nothing that gives us any indication as to why he would do this or what would have triggered this. The victims did not know him; he did not know the victims.”