The calls and emails starting pouring in shortly after noon on Sunday. Reports of gunshots fired near Copley Township, a mostly sleepy community outside of Akron, sandwiched among Fairlawn, Bath Township and other Akron suburbs. Initial reports from a couple of my editors was that there had been a shooting incident at the Fairlawn Swim and Tennis Club on Ridgewood near Schocalog. And off I went.
I stopped at the Swim and Tennis club, expecting to see stretches of yellow tape and crowds gathered around the chain link fence. Instead there were five cars in the parking lot, including mine, and less than a dozen people at the pool. No crime scene. One lady there said she hadn’t heard a thing.
Then Kymberli Hagelberg had an update: The scene was on Schocalog, but over by Copley Road, more than a mile away. Four, possibly five had been shot. I came across at Bath Township police officer manning one of the roadblocks and asked if there had been gunfire and how bad was it. It’s bad, he replied, and shied away from my camera. He directed me to the other side of the roadblock where authorities planned a media staging ground (insert eye-roll here).
That initial report was a mile or two off target. I hesitate here, thinking “target” is a poor word choice given the events that unfolded, but maybe it should stay. What happened amounted to a cruel, psychotic round of target practice.
Apparently, one man came unhinged and, with two .45-caliber handguns (including one he bought just last week), went on a crazed shooting spree that left seven innocent people dead and then he was shot by police. It all went down in about 10 minutes. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop-pop. Pop. Pop. Pop-pop-pop. Pop-pop-pop.
I ran into some old friends and former colleagues from the Beacon Journal, Jim Carney and Karen Schiely, near the media “staging” area, but most of us hung out near the barricades hoping to get a glimpse of what was going on. A couple of media types said they heard four dead. Five dead. Police uniforms and plain clothes from Copley, Bath, Akron and Summit County Sheriff’s office were all over the place. Then the CSI truck rolled in. That was all I needed to see to know that this was a major crime scene (watch enough crime drama?). Then someone shouted “Here comes the bus!” It was an RV with “Mobile Command Center” inscribed on the side. People caught in the traffic jam creeping by kept asking, “What happened? What’s going on?” I started saying, “We don’t know,” though we actually had a pretty good idea.
Roger Sommer and Kymberli arrived separately at the scene and Roger tried some back road looks at the scene while I hung out awaiting the chief of Copley to issue a public statement.
More media gathered, lots of tripods and TV crews, and they started setting up camp along the roadside by the barricades, across the street from the designated media “staging area.” What can I say, organizing reporters is like trying to herd cats. Good luck with that.
Roger came back from his scouting trip with news that he whispered to me: Eight dead. He had managed to talk to some witnesses at and near the crime scene. One of them, who was too rattled to talk to him, had barely escaped with her life.
Copley Chief Mike Mier finally came to the makeshift press conference and told us a few bare-bones facts: Eight dead, including the suspected gunmen, spread out over four crime scenes on Goodenough and Schocalog, and one shooting victim hospitalized in intensive care.
As is often the case with breaking news, the facts were still a little dicey and new information seemed to materialize every five minutes – the tricky part is discerning what is reliable information and what is speculation, rumor or wild conjecture. The number of victims at each “crime scene” as well as the number of crimes scenes changed as more reports poured in. Was it a domestic dispute gone wildly out of control? A dispute with a neighbor? Was the shooter known to the victims? Did the shootings occur inside the houses or out? Both?
Slowly, the awful truth unfolded: Three of the shooting victims were kids, including two students at Copley High School. They were in a parked car. The killer chased an 11-year-old boy, the nephew of the killer’s girlfriend, cornered him in a neighbor’s basement and shot him in cold blood.
A SWAT team, a CSI team and hordes of other law enforcement teams swarmed the area but the carnage ended almost as quickly as it began: A responding Copley officer was joined by a neighboring former Copley cop and the Copley cop took the gunman out. The killer was later identified as Michael Hance, a Goodenough Avenue resident.
We’ll spend the next few months trying to make sense of something that inherently cannot make sense. Why did all those people have to die at the hands (and guns) of some guy described as a bid of an oddball who at the particular moment went off the deep end? Who is to blame? And then the what-ifs will turn up. What if one teenage girl had not been visiting her friend at the time? Might they both have somehow avoided the carnage?
I can only imagine what the survivors of this must be experiencing, just as on Sunday afternoon I could only imagine what had happened on Goodenough and Schocalog. And then I knew. I wish I didn’t.