An Uber driver accused of murdering six people and injuring two others was picking up fares during his night-long shooting spree, customers say.
Jason Brian Dalton, 45, was arrested for a string of murders outside Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Saturday night, according to police. He has been charged with six counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder, and appeared in court Monday afternoon. Prosecutors say Dalton has admitted to the shootings, but Dalton invoked his right to remain silent.
A Facebook page belonging to Dalton indicates that he’s married and shows photos of him, his wife, Carole, and their two young children. Dalton’s wife scrubbed her public Facebook page of all photos as soon as her husband was named as a suspect.
“We just can’t figure out the motive,” said Kalamazoo public safety chief Jeff Hadley. “The victims did not know him, he did not know the victims.”
Dalton has no criminal record, according to public records. Uber said he passed its background check process before he was authorized to drive. (The company says it is cooperating with police.)
Even before the gunshots started, all did not seem well with the Uber driver: Matt Mellen said Dalton was driving erratically when he was picked up earlier that day.
“Finally once he came to a stop, I jumped out of the car and ran away,” Matt Mellen told WWMT-TV. He then called 911.
Kacey Black said she and her husband saw the whole scene unfold in front of them and also called 911. Black said the dispatcher didn’t take the report seriously.
“I felt like they didn't believe me,” Kacey Black told Fox 17. “They just kind of laughed at me."
Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting said Monday that police couldn’t have known that Dalton was about to embark on a shooting spree.
“I do know Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety received a call about the erratic driving,” Getting told CNN, adding that he was “very comfortable” with the police response to the call.
“To try and spin that into, ‘Well, the police should have done more because that is likely to lead to this random, unprovoked violence,’ I think is a bit of a stretch.”
Mellen’s fiancée warned Facebook friends about Dalton, putting the driver’s face next to a cautionary note.
“This uber driver named JASON drives a silver Chevy Equinox is NOT a safe ride,” Mackenzie Waite wrote. “They sideswiped [sic] a car blowing through the stop sign [...] this man proceeded to drive 80 mph down west main swerving in and out of oncoming traffic.”
Police said Dalton was driving a Chevy HHR crossover vehicle, similar to the Equinox.
Just before 6 p.m. Dalton drove to an apartment complex where he allegedly fired 10 shots at a woman and three children in the parking lot. Neighbors found her in the parking lot and called 911. The woman was taken to the hospital in serious condition after suffering four gunshot wounds.
It is unclear if police had a description of the suspect or vehicle at this time.
At approximately 8 p.m., Dalton dropped off a passenger, according to a screenshot the passenger posted on Twitter.
“Lucky to be alive,” he later tweeted.
At 10:15 p.m., Dalton allegedly struck again at a Kia dealership in the area, shooting and killing Richard Smith and his 17-year-old son Tyler, who were browsing vehicles in the parking lot.
At 10:30 p.m., Dalton drove to a Cracker Barrel restaurant where police say he shot and killed four people in the parking lot, “gravely” injuring a 14-year-old girl in a car. The four fatalities, all women, included a retired English teacher from a local high school, Mary Jo Nye. Colleagues described her being “like a mother” to many students.
The teenage girl was pronounced brain dead, but then squeezed her mother's hand. She made thumbs up signs with both hands after being asked by a doctor, in a turn police Lt. Dale Hinz called "miraculous."
A Kalamazoo woman said she requested Dalton’s Uber at 11:13 p.m. but canceled it at the last minute, a friend told the New York Daily News.
Shortly after, a man who identified himself to NPR only as Derek hailed Dalton for a trip back to a hotel with his wife and in-laws.
“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?’” he told NPR. “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.’”
They arrived at approximately 12:20 a.m.
Twenty minutes later, police apprehended Dalton on the road.
“There is this sense of loss, anger, fear,” Getting, the county prosecutor, said at a press conference. “On top of that, how do you tell the families of these victims that they were not targeted for any other reason than they were a target?”