GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Hours after the shooting stopped, a car chase ended and a gunman wanted for killing seven people took three hostages, Michigan authorities still hoped that the suspect might surrender without another death.
Police in Grand Rapids tried to talk an agitated Rodrick Shonte Dantzler into giving up late Thursday. They said his thoughts seemed to swing between surrender and asking officers to shoot him.
"He was talking about coming out, giving himself up," Police Chief Kevin Belk said. "He decided at the last moment to fire the gun."
The 34-year-old ex-convict from Grand Rapids killed himself with a single shot to the head, ending the standoff with his hostages unharmed. But authorities say Dantzler left behind a pair of bloody crime scenes — the result of an unexplained rampage in which he killed his daughter, an ex-girlfriend and five others, including a second child who police couldn't immediately identify.
"It makes no sense to try to rationalize it, what the motives were," Belk said. "You just cannot come up with a logical reason why someone takes seven peoples' lives."
The names of the dead were not immediately released. Autopsies were scheduled for Friday.
Records show that Dantzler was released from state prison in 2005, after serving time for assault less than murder. A spokesman for the prison system said Dantzler had not been under state supervision since then.
Police initially got a 911 call early Thursday afternoon from someone saying that a man had admitted to killing three people, Belk said. Police went to Dantzler's home, but he wasn't there and officers couldn't find him.
It wasn't long before authorities got a call from a woman who said her relatives had been shot. Next came a call about someone finding four gunshot victims at another house.
Officers soon found three bodies in a home on Plainfield Avenue. An hour later, they discovered the other four across town in a ranch-style house on a cul-de-sac called Brynell Court.
Two of the dead were children.
Kyle Gietzen lives with his wife a few blocks from the home where three bodies were found. He was nearby and saw five to six officers trying to break in the front door, while several others went to the back door. He said he didn't know what had happened until later.
"I had no idea anybody had been shot," he said. "I just thought it was a drug sting or something. It's awful."
Another neighbor, Sandra Powney, lives across the street from one of the homes and said she had seen Dantzler at the ranch house, where a couple has lived for more than 20 years with two adult daughters. Powney said she had been at home all day and did not realize anyone had been killed until police arrived at the cul-de-sac in the midafternoon.
"For a while we couldn't come outside," she said. "They didn't know if there was someone still inside the house."
Lisa Schenden lives with her husband and their children two blocks from the home where four people were killed. She said the homeowners are a couple whose daughter has a daughter with the suspect. She didn't hear the shooting either, but she saw the suspect and his daughter drive up to the house earlier in the day.
"Just last night, my kids went over there swimming, and I went over with them," she said.
While police were investigating the seven homicides, Belk said police received a report of a "road rage" shooting.
Dantzler had apparently shot at a man through the rear window of the vehicle he was driving. Police spotted him, and began a chase that included Dantzler crashing into a patrol car in the city's downtown and exchanging gunfire with officers, during which a female bystander was shot in the shoulder.
Danztler drove a sport utility vehicle north from downtown and onto Interstate 96, crossing a grassy median and heading the wrong way down the highway while more than a dozen squad cars pursued him. Belk said he crashed the vehicle while driving down an embankment into a wooded area of the highway, which remained closed hours later.
"I look in my rearview mirror and see this big white SUV coming up behind me," said Carrie Colacchio, who lives a little more than a mile away from where Dantzler later took his three hostages. "The only way to get out of it was to push the gas pedal."
Colacchio said she couldn't turn off the road or slow down or go any other way, and she reached about 85 mph.
"I almost got smacked," she said. "I had to go up on the curb."
From the highway, Dantzler made his way toward a nearby single-family home, firing several shots as he forced his way inside and took hostages he did not know, police said. Dozens of officers with guns drawn cordoned off the neighborhood, near a small lake in the northern part of the city, as authorities shut down nearby Interstate 96.
That was around 7:30 p.m. During the next five hours, Dantzler fired sporadically at officers and inside the house. He vacillated between threatening to shoot the hostages and pleading with police to take him out, even asking negotiators whether there were snipers outside the home and where he should stand, Belk said.
"The suspect fired at our officers many times throughout the night," he said. "Even in the home, there was an exchange of gunfire. He fired as they made entry to the house."
Officers had gone inside to protect the hostages, and remained in the house throughout the negotiations with Dantzler. He changed course after several hours and asked how he could surrender. Belk said officers were talking with him about how to turn himself in when they heard the gunshot.
"Obviously, we're extremely disappointed at the outcome," Belk said. "We would much rather have had the suspect surrender and have him in custody."