COPLEY, Ohio — A former police officer credited with helping stop a gunman who police say killed seven people described feeling terrified but said he reacted the way he was trained.
"It just comes down to part of my DNA," Michael Lavery said in an interview Monday with WKYC-TV of Cleveland. He lives in the suburban Akron neighborhood where police said Michael Hance stalked people — including an 11-year-old boy — and gunned them down late Sunday morning. The rampage ended in a shootout with Lavery and police in which Hance, who had no previous criminal record before the outburst, was killed.
Authorities were still trying to work out details of the shootings and a motive for Hance's actions. Neighbors said the violence was the culmination of a dispute over the home where he was living with his longtime girlfriend, Becky Dieter, who also was shot but survived. The home had belonged to Dieter's deceased parents.
Lavery said the rest of his family went to church Sunday morning, but he stayed home with a son who was sick. When the gunfire erupted, Lavery said he ran outside but first told the boy, "Hit the ground, stay on the ground. Keep your head down, lay down by the couch and don't you leave this house."
"I feel terrible for everybody involved," Lavery said, thinking back on the bloodshed. "I feel terrible for the shooter himself, I feel terrible for his family members."
Hance had recently grown angry over residents' comments about the property where he lived with Dieter, neighbor Carol Eshleman said. About a month ago, Hance's next-door neighbor Gudrun "Gerdie" Johnson had asked Hance to clean up the property, which included a broken-down car on blocks.
Johnson related the encounter to Eshleman, explaining that she'd never seen Hance so upset. "He said, `Get off my property and don't come back,'" Eshleman said.
The dispute apparently dated to the deaths of Becky Dieter's parents a couple of years ago, said Eshleman, who was a caregiver for the Dieters. Becky Dieter's brother, Craig, wanted the house sold, but instead Hance and Becky Dieter moved in, Eshleman said.
Another neighbor, Gilbert Elie, said one of the Johnsons had complained about the property to a councilwoman in the neighborhood. Messages seeking comment from Copley Township Trustee Helen Humphrys, who lives nearby, were not returned Monday, and it was not clear if there was ever a formal complaint made.
Johnson, 64, was killed in the attack, along with her husband, 67-year-old Russell Johnson; their 44-year-old son Bryan Johnson and his daughter Autumn, 16; Craig Dieter and his 11-year-old son, Scott; and an unidentified girl who was slain while in a parked car with Autumn outside the Johnsons' home.
Hance cornered the 11-year old in the basement of a house, ordered out the family sheltering the boy and then shot him, police said.
Hance was a little slow but often read textbooks on diseases and medical procedures and tried to get others interested, Eshleman said. He also made and drank odd health concoctions and claimed he didn't have to work because he was an inventor, she said.
He also seemed constantly under stress, trying to deal with possessions of relatives who had recently died, said Eshleman, a 64-year-old driver for public school special education students.
"Mike was strange," she said, but "I wouldn't think he'd go to this extreme."
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