Dantzler “went out hunting” his victims, Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk said. He said the gunman used cocaine and alcohol sometime on the day of the slayings.
The 34-year-old former prison inmate began the spree Thursday afternoon before leading police on a high-speed chase through downtown Grand Rapids. He crashed his car and took several hostages in a stranger’s home, then killed himself with a shot to the head late that night.
Investigators did not know what triggered the attack, but the police chief said Dantzler appeared to be “mentally unstable.”
“I don’t have a clinical diagnosis,” Belk said. “Clearly he was a very troubled individual.”
Records show Dantzler was released from state prison in 2005, after serving time for assault less than murder. A spokesman for the prison system said Dantzler had not been under state supervision since then.
After getting a 911 call that a man had acknowledged killing several people, police went to Dantzler’s home, but he wasn’t there. Authorities soon got a call from a woman who said her relatives had been shot. Next came a call about someone finding four gunshot victims at another house.
Officers found three bodies in a home on Plainfield Avenue. An hour later, they discovered the other four across town in a house on a cul-de-sac called Brynell Court.
“It makes no sense to try to rationalize it, what the motives were,” Belk said. “You just cannot come up with a logical reason why someone takes seven peoples’ lives.”
While police were investigating the seven slayings, Belk said, officers received a report of a “road rage” shooting. Dantzler had apparently shot at a man through the rear window of the vehicle he was driving. Police spotted him, and began a chase that included Dantzler crashing into a patrol car downtown and exchanging gunfire with officers. A female bystander was shot in the shoulder.
Karissa Swanson, 18, said her mother was the woman who was shot, and that she had known Dantzler for many years. Swanson said her mother, 35-year-old April Swanson, was driving and chatting on her cellphone when Dantzler suddenly pulled up beside her.
“My mom turned her head and he was right there, yelling her name, like, ‘April, April, I gotta talk, I gotta talk to you,”’ Swanson said. “So my mom hung up the phone and called the police and was like, ‘He’s right next to me.”’
The daughter said Dantzler chased her mother until they got caught at a stoplight, when he shot at her car.
Pickup driver Robert Poore, who also was shot during the chase, told police that the bullet ricocheted off a titanium plate that had been inserted in his nose during cancer treatment when he was a child, according to WOOD-TV. Poore suffered only minor injuries.
Dantzler drove a sport utility vehicle north from downtown and onto Interstate 96, crossing a grassy median and heading the wrong way down the highway while more than a dozen squad cars pursued him.
He eventually crashed the vehicle while driving down an embankment into a wooded area.
Dantzler then made his way toward a nearby home, firing several shots as he forced his way inside and took hostages he did not know, police said. Dozens of officers with guns drawn cordoned off the neighborhood in the northern part of the city.
That was around 7:30 p.m. Over the next five hours, Dantzler alternately threatened to shoot the hostages and pleaded with police to take him out, even asking negotiators whether there were snipers outside the home and where he should stand. He sometimes fired his gun at officers and inside the home, Belk said.
Authorities identified the dead as: 29-year-old Jennifer Marie Heeren, an ex-girlfriend; 12-year-old Kamrie Deann Heeren-Dantzler, Dantzler’s daughter; 52-year-old Rebecca Lynn Heeren, Jennifer Heeren’s mother; 51-year-old Thomas Heeren, her father; 23-year-old Kimberlee Ann Emkens, a woman Dantzler had previously dated; 27-year-old Amanda Renee Emkens, Kimberlee Emkens’ sister; and 10-year-old Marissa Lynn Emkens, Amanda Emkens’ daughter.
A candlelight vigil is set for tonight at Ah-Nab-Awen Park, and Mayor George Heartwell said a community service is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Second Congregational Church in Grand Rapids.