Six dead in Michigan random shootings, suspect in custody

Jason Dalton, 45, is shown in this booking photo provided by the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office in Michigan on Sunday ( Feb 21).
Jason Dalton, 45, is shown in this booking photo provided by the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office in Michigan on Sunday ( Feb 21).PHOTO: REUTERS

KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN (REUTERS/AFP) - A gunman killed six people and wounded two in seemingly random parking lot shootings in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, before being arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning, a county prosecutor said.

The 45-year-old suspect, Jason Dalton, was believed to have opened fire late on Saturday outside an apartment complex, a Kia car dealership and a Cracker Barrel restaurant over a period of little more than four hours, Kalamazoo County prosecutor Jeff Getting said.

A 14-year-old girl initially reported to have been shot dead at the restaurant was in fact seriously wounded, Mr Getting told a news conference.

The victims "appear to be chosen at random, because they were available", he said. "They were shot multiple times, multiple - nine, 10, 11 shell casings at each of these scenes."

The carnage in Kalamazoo, a city of about 75,000 people 240km west of Detroit, was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have made gun control a campaign issue ahead of November's US presidential election.

Kalamazoo County Undersheriff Paul Matyas told the local CNN affiliate 24 Hours News 8: "What it looks like is we have somebody driving around, finding people and shooting them dead in their tracks.

"This is your worst nightmare, when you have somebody just driving around randomly killing people."

 

Earlier reports of the death of a seventh victim, a teenage girl who was shot at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, were incorrect, Mr Getting added. He said the teen was "seriously, gravely injured".

The chain of shootings began at around 6pm (7am Sunday, Singapore time), when the gunman opened fire on a woman who was with her three children outside an apartment complex, he said. She was seriously wounded but is expected to survive.

The gunman next struck at 10pm, killing an 18-year-old boy and an adult male at a car dealership, according to Mr Getting. The last and deadliest shooting came 10 to 15 minutes later at the Cracker Barrel restaurant where four more people were killed, he said.

Video at the car dealership and the restaurant helped police identify the shooter's car, Mr Getting said. Dalton was arrested in downtown Kalamazoo at about 12.30am after a county sheriff's deputy spotted him driving out of a bar parking lot.

Mr Getting described Dalton as cooperative when he was arrested and said authorities were looking for a motive.

A semi-automatic pistol was found in Dalton's car and Mr Getting said he believed the police had recovered his cellphone. Dalton was thought to have been in contact with more than one person during the shooting spree, he said.

Mr Getting said he expected Dalton to be arraigned on Monday on charges of murder, assault and firearms violations.

The police said Dalton had no known criminal record, and that surveillance video from businesses had led to a description of his vehicle. The victims' names were not released.

The killings were are the latest in a long line of mass shootings in the US that include the Dec 2 massacre in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 people dead and 22 wounded, and the Dec 14, 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in which 20 children and six adults were shot dead.

The easy availability of guns - Americans can simply run down to their local Walmart and buy them - has seen a raise in violence that claims the lives of about 30,000 Americans every year and mass shootings - rare in most countries - have been on the rise.

According to the tracking website gunviolencearchive.org, there were 330 mass shootings in the United States in 2015, up from 281 in 2014. They affected nearly every part of the country, reaching into both big cities and small towns.