Families, victims express pain, fear and anger as Jason Dalton receives six life sentences

Tianna Carruthers, who survived the injuries, was one of those who was shot by Jason Dalton the night of the Kalamazoo mass shooting. (WWMT/Jason Heeres)

A Kalamazoo County judge handed Jason Dalton one life sentence for each of the six people he confessed to killing in the Feb. 20, 2016, shooting spree that seriously injured two others.

He will have no possibility for parole.

Before the judgement was issued, the families of those he killed and one of the survivors shared their pain, their fears and their grief. A couple even encouraged Dalton to speak, to respond in some way. He did not.

Sitting slumped in a courtroom chair during the testimony, Dalton, 48, showed no emotion as the families of his victims spoke.

The speakers shared their emotions, while detailing the personalities of their loved ones, the memories they will never get to make, and the pain they must live with because of Dalton.

“I feel my heart and soul have been ripped out beyond repair,” said Laurie Smith. Her husband, Rich, 53, and her 17-year-old son Tyler Smith were killed in the parking lot of a car dealership in Kalamazoo that night.

“Every day since I woke up to half my family being gone has been a living nightmare,” Emily Lemmer said.

She walked down the aisle on her wedding day carrying her brother's and her father’s ashes.

“My dad was my person, the one I turned to in most situations,” Lemmer said. “He always knew how to talk to me and always said the right things. He supported me and loved me even when I didn’t deserve it.”

Lemmer said she feels sick every time she thinks about all of the dreams and plans her younger brother had. “He tried to be a friend to everyone he met; his smile and laugh we contagious,” she said.

Tyler deserved to live a full life, Lemmer said.

“I can’t understand how or why you could do this to all these innocent people. Were you mad? What were you thinking as you repeatedly shot and killed my family? What made you decide that I didn’t need a brother or a dad?”

Smith turned to face Dalton as she spoke, but he kept his eyes on the floor.

“You somehow decided that I didn’t need my husband anymore or my son," Smith said. "You decided my daughter didn’t need her daddy or her brother.”

Smith asked Dalton: “You have children and a spouse so why did you have to take mine away from me?”

She was one of many to detail the pain and fear the families of Dalton’s victims carry with them.

Lemmer said, “I’m constantly terrified and anxious of anything and everything. I’m always afraid that something bad is going to happen or that I’m going to lose more people that I love.”

Tiana Carruthers, one of just two survivors, read Dalton the names of the children she shielded from his shot when he opened fire on a playground. She also detailed the nightmares her daughter still suffers.

“What if that was your child out on the playground?” Carruthers asked Dalton. “You tried to kill us all. You failed. I'm standing here, right here in your face, in front of you. How does it make you feel? Look at me, how does it make you feel? Just look at me. Look at me, please.”

Dalton wouldn’t look, he kept his eyes locked on the courtroom floor, his body shifted away from the podium where Carruthers and others stood to deliver their impact statements.

Laura Hawthorne, the niece of Barbara Hawthorne, also spoke directly to Dalton. “You are nothing but very ugly and dark,” she said.

Barbara Hawthorne was a woman who spent her life loving everyone around her and fighting for peace, her family said; and she would have been the first to forgive Dalton

“You are nothing but a pile of worthless evil, worthless,” said Jeff Reynolds, son of Dorothy "Judy" Brown.

“I and all of the individuals and families whose lives you have shattered are at least pleased you will never walk free again,” Reynolds said as he pointed at Dalton. “We will never have a day when we can walk free of the devastating loss that you’ve needlessly caused.”

Friends Dorothy "Judy" Brown, 74, and Barbara Hawthorne, 68, both of Battle Creek, and sisters-in-law Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda, and Mary Jo Nye, 60, of Battle Creek, were killed in a restaurant parking lot in Texas Township.

Christoher Nye, Mary Lou’s husband and Mary Jo’s brother, said, “The world has lost two women whose only goal in life was to take care of children.”

Abbie Kopf, then 14, was also shot outside of the Cracker Barrel. She was critically injured but survived. She and her family did not attend Dalton’s sentencing.

Several family members raised the question of why Dalton went on a shooting spree that night, but added there is no possible explanation that tragic act, and nothing can ever bring back the people he killed.

Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting told Dalton he hopes Dalton will see the faces of his eight victims every morning he wakes up in prison.

Dalton has spent the past 1,080 days in the Kalamazoo County Jail and Getting estimated he will live another 10,000 in prison.

Laurie Smith said, “I hope that it haunts you and you experience deep sorrow in your soul.”

There is no closure, the families of the victims said, but there is a sense of relief. Now that Dalton has been sentenced to life in prison, they said, they don’t have to see or think about Dalton ever again.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off