A gunman shot nine people and killed seven — including three children — before police shot him dead in a small town in Ohio, officials said. The rampage — which was apparently rooted in a domestic dispute — left bodies strewn across an otherwise quiet neighborhood in Copley Township beginning at about 11am on Sunday morning.
Gilbert Elie came outside at the sound of the shots and moaning to discover the bloodied bodies of two of his neighbors — Russell and Gudrun Johnson — lying in their driveway. He went to check on them and saw a woman lying over a teenage girl — as if to protect her — inside a black minivan. They both looked dead and Elie called to his wife to call the police. Then Becky Dieter, who lives between his house and the driveway where the Johnsons were killed, came outside and asked him what was going on.
“I was talking to her when her boyfriend came out of the house behind her and shot her three or four times,” he said.
Elie jumped behind a car and when he peeked out from behind it, he saw Dieter “fall off the porch and down the steps.”
He then heard the welcome sound of police sirens, along with more shots and the sound of people running behind the houses through the nearby woods.
Police arriving at the scene spotted the gunman fleeing and took chase.
The suspect then “engaged the officers in gunfire and the suspect has been killed as well,” Copley Police Chief Michael Mier told the Akron Beacon Journal.
Mier told reporters that five people were found shot to death outside one house, two people were killed at two other locations and that the gunman was killed elsewhere.
“Our job is extremely complicated right now because we have four scenes that we’re processing,” he said at a press conference. “We understand that at some point in time the shooter was chasing somebody.”
While police have not identified the victims, school superintendant Brian Poe said two of those killed were local high school students and that an 11-year-old boy who was killed was not a Copley student.
“This sends an absolute shock through the community,” Poe said. “One of the most difficult things to deal with is the senselessness of this. It’s not easy when anyone is killed, but particularly youth.”
Neighbors identified some of the victims as Brian Johnson, Autumn Johnson, 17, and Scott Dieter, 11, who had come from Kentucky to visit his aunt Becky Dieter, who is believed to be at an area hospital.
Friends and neighbors held a solemn candlelight vigil for the victims on Sunday evening in a local park. The streets leading to the shooting scenes remained barricaded by police.
“These were great people. They would give you anything,” said Trisha Tipple, who knew the family because their children raced bikes together. “It’s just surreal. We’re so numb, we don’t know what to say anymore.”
Jawanna Watkins lives a block away from the shooting and used to ride the same bus to school as Autumn Johnson.
“She was a real nice girl. She was a cheerleader,” he said. “This is a real sad day for the Copley community.”
Copley Township, located 80km south of Cleveland, has a population of about 14,000, according to the township’s Web site.