KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo murder spree that killed six has reignited the gun control debate, with President Barack Obama taking the lead, but police say there was nothing to keep Jason Dalton from owning a handgun.
Dalton, 45, of Cooper Township, was armed with a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun when police arrested him. They said they believe he used it in at least part of the Saturday rampage.
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Director Jeff Hadley told 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday that Dalton bought the gun legally and that it was registered in his name. It wasn’t clear when he bought it.
However, he did not have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, police said.
Long-time neighbor Gary Pardo remembers when Dalton first told him he needed to buy a gun, maybe 10 years ago.
“He said, ‘I’m going to have to get something to protect ourselves,'” Pardo remembered.
That, he said, was after somebody tried breaking into the rural home north of Kalamazoo where Dalton lived with his wife and two kids.
Pardo said he didn’t consider his neighbor a gun enthusiast.
“I didn’t know he had multiple guns,” he said. “We never talked about guns, other than the fact he got one.”
He said Dalton fired a warning shot into the ground once or twice after that, after saying he’d heard suspicious noises outside.
“He said, ‘All I did was open the door and shoot a shot into the ground, one shot, just to scare them away,'” Pardo said.
He described him as a good neighbor and a friend.
Dalton was a regular customer at Southwick’s gun shop in Plainwell, though workers say he never bought a gun there.
But he was there Saturday, hours before the rampage, where he bought a coat designed to carry guns.
“He was a law-abiding citizen up until the time he pulled the trigger on his first victim,” gun shop owner Jonathan Southwick said. “He was in here three hours before that started, no indication at all. There’s just some people that will never give you an indication that they’re about to do something horrible.”
Southwick told 24 Hour News 8 in a phone interview that Dalton was acting normal and joked around when he came in with a friend on Saturday. He talked about the nice weather and was smiling.
According to Southwick, Dalton’s friend was looking at long guns while Dalton went over to the clothing department. He said Dalton bought a 5.11 tactical jacket, which can conceal a small pistol.
Before he left, Dalton gave one of the managers a side hug.
The next morning when Southwick heard about the deadly shooting spree and one of his managers showed him Dalton’s mugshot, he went cold.
“I got goosebumps and I said ‘Holy crap, I talked to him yesterday,’” Southwick said.
Southwick said Dalton came into the shop about once every month or two and he knew Dalton by face, but not by name.
After Dalton’s first court appearance on Monday, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting wanted no part of the gun debate.
“There are going to be people who say we would be safer with more guns. There are people that say we would not be safer with more guns; we’d be safer with less guns,” he said.
Dalton’s neighbor said he was still shaken by the image of his friend in court.
“I saw what appeared to me a broken man who somehow slipped into a moment of insanity,” he said. “He looked to me like he was suddenly realizing that he had been in a dream and woke up.”
Dalton faces 16 charges, including six counts of open murder in the deaths of Tyler Smith, Rich Smith, Mary Jo Nye, Mary Lou Nye, Dorothy Brown and Barbara Hawthorne. He also faces attempted murder charges for allegedly shooting Tiana Carruthers and 14-year-old Abigail Kopf.
Police said Dalton confessed to them that he took people’s lives, but has shown no remorse.
Dalton was denied bond Monday and is scheduled to be back in court on March 3.