Inside Uber Driver Jason Dalton's Hours-Long Rampage That Killed 6
Jason Dalton was sentenced to life in prison without parole earlier this month for his shooting rampage three years ago.
On the evening of Feb. 20, 2016, Abigail Kopf was in a Michigan Cracker Barrel parking lot when gunfire rang out.
In a flash, the four other women she was with — sisters-in-law Mary Jo Nye, 60, and Mary Lou Nye, 62; Barbara Hawthorne, 68; and Judy Brown, 74 — were all dead. Then-14-year-old Abigail was hit in the head and initially thought dead too, becoming the seventh and final fatality in a random shooting spree carried out by Uber driver Jason Dalton.
But then something miraculous happened. As doctors prepared Abigail's body for organ harvesting, the girl's grieving mother felt her daughter squeeze her hand.
Just like that, what was thought to have been seven fatalities became six.
Earlier on that day, Dalton, a Kalamazoo insurance adjuster who supplemented his income by driving for Uber, visited a few different gun stores with a friend, who later noted that Dalton seemed "little more quiet than normal," according to police.
Dalton then picked up an Uber customer just after 4 p.m. The passenger, Matt Mellen, said that they chatted pleasantly for a bit, with Dalton's family dog, Mia, riding along in the car as well, according to police. Then, Dalton got a phone call that seemed to change things.
“He hung up,” Mellen told GQ magazine, “and he floored it. ... He just started driving crazy.”
Dalton drove across a median, blew through a stop sign and swiped another car, as Mellen shouted for him to stop. Dalton didn't stop and didn't appear fazed by Mellen's pleas.
“I was, ‘Please just let me out! Please just let me out!’ ” Mellen told GQ. “And he was, ‘Well, don’t you need a ride to your friend’s house?’"
Mellen eventually leapt out of the car when it slowed and called police to report Dalton, and a "Be on the lookout" was issued for the vehicle, a silver Chevrolet Equinox. Mellen called his fiancee, who posted a picture of Dalton on Facebook, warning her friends about his "erratic driving."
Dalton, meanwhile, drove home, where he loaded up his guns and then accepted another Uber passenger.
His first victim, Tiana Carruthers, was shot as Dalton was looking for the woman who'd requested the ride, Maci. Dalton pulled up to Carruthers, asked if she was "Maisie or Misty," and drove off when she told him she wasn't. Then, she later recalled, he circled back and shot at her repeatedly.
Carruthers played dead and survived. But Dalton's next victims weren't so lucky.
Fatalities and Arrest
Hours later, after meeting up with his wife and taking her black Chevrolet HHR, Dalton pulled into a Kia dealership around 10 p.m. He'd picked up passengers in between opening fire on Carruthers and heading to the dealership, and seemed, by all accounts, perfectly normal.
One passenger, according to GQ, said Dalton sang along to the radio; another said that when Dalton's Uber app glitched, not charging the ride correctly, he behaved like it was fine.
But at the Kia dealership, Dalton unleashed a barrage of gunfire on two strangers, a father and son pair, Richard and Tyler Smith. Both were killed. Witnesses across the street called 911 as Dalton sped off.
Ten minutes later, as police were responding to the dealership, they received reports of gunfire in the Cracker Barrel parking lot, where Dalton killed four more, the Nye sisters-in-law, Hawthorne and Brown. They had gone to see a performance, carpooling together from the Cracker Barrel after dinner, and had returned to the parking lot where they were getting into their respective vehicles to head home.
Dalton later described what had happened, saying he approached one of the women for a dollar "to make America great again" and then shot her, according to police.
He had planned to leave but heard the other three women and Abigail, in the neighboring vehicle, scream. He turned his gun on them. Only Abigail survived.
By this point, police had realized the incidents were all connected. They used surveillance footage from the dealership to identify Dalton and the new car he was driving and put out an updated description, warning local residents on Facebook to watch out for him.
While police searched for him, Dalton continued picking up Uber passengers into the early morning hours until he was finally arrested just before 1 a.m.
One of the passengers later told police he asked Dalton jokingly whether he was the shooter.
"No," he said Dalton replied.
Abigail, the rampage's youngest survivor, fought hard to recover after being shot in the head by Dalton, enduring multiple surgeries to repair the damage done.
There were setbacks. At one point, she sustained an infection, which spread down to the three-dimensional plate in her head that replaced bone blown away by Dalton's bullet.
But she persevered and eventually returned to school in September 2017, more than a year after the shooting. “She was very nervous, but she did very well,” mom Vicki Kopf told InsideEdition.com after her first day back.
Now, Abigail is speaking to ABC's "20/20" about the terrifying night and her recovery in a special airing Friday.
"My mom was a basket case," she told the program of the immediate days following the shooting. "She sat on my bed the whole eight days, five days, however long I was in a coma. She didn't sleep, she didn't eat, she didn't drink.
"She just sat there and waited for me to wake up."
Thankfully, for Abigail at least, she can barely remember the shooting. She does credit Hawthorne, who was like a grandmother to her, with saving her life by reportedly pushing her down during the gunfire.
"I almost died," she said. "If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here."
Dalton pleaded guilty to the killings in January after deciding he wanted to avoid putting his family through the stress of a trial.
His calm demeanor stood in stark contrast to a court hearing two-and-a-half years ago, when he lunged at one of his surviving victims, Carruthers, as she testified in court at a pre-trial hearing. Carruthers sobbed as Dalton was dragged from the courtroom.
"I've wanted this for quite a while," Dalton said, when asked by the judge presiding over the case whether his change of heart was voluntary.
The news was bittersweet for families of the victims, who still have no idea what led Dalton, who had no criminal record, to embark on his deadly killing spree. Uber reportedly said Dalton passed a background check and there were no indications that any warning flags were missed.
For his part, Dalton told investigators he was being controlled by the Uber app, according to police, and his lawyers initially planned to plead insanity in the case. Dalton was eventually found competent to stand trial and the insanity defense was dropped.
The motive, said prosecutor Jeff Getting last month, is a "key question" that still haunts investigators. "Everybody wants to know," he added.
Emily Lemmer, whose father and brother were killed, fought back tears at the January hearing.
When asked by Inside Edition whether she thinks Dalton understands the pain he's caused her family, as well as others, Lemmer replied, "100 percent not."
"Nor does he care," added Emily's mother, Laurie Smith.
Dalton was sentenced to life without parole earlier this month, bringing the case to an end.
After the sentencing, Jeff Reynolds, the son of Brown, who was in the car with Abigail, said he was satisfied to see Dalton "locked up for life" but lamented the lack of closure.
"I can't say there is closure," Reynolds said. "There is no closure. We can say goodbye to this chapter and look forward to the healing, but it has affected our lives and we will never be free from it."
"Good riddance," Getting told reporters outside the courthouse. "... He is gone and never should be back in Kalamazoo for any reason and that is a good thing.
"I am glad to see him go."
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