The Mass Killer, The Cop and The Armed Citizen
A neighbor has escalated from strange to full psycho, and
is rampaging through the neighborhood shooting people. Only one cop has
arrived … and you have a Glock with which to back him up.
The ability to fight back can be the difference between horror
and heroism — but the press doesn’t want to admit it.
Gunshots and screams echo through a quiet, classic suburban neighborhood as a cop and armed citizen move together quickly toward those terrifying sounds. They take cover behind a big tree as they spot the suspect, a black semi-auto pistol in his hand. The good guys both shout commands, but the gunman — moving fast — raises his own weapon to kill them, even as their own fingers go to their triggers …
Located just west of Akron, Ohio, the Copley Township has a population of just over 17,000 within its 21 square miles, and a police department consisting of some 30 well-trained officers. In the late morning hours of August 7, 2011, an atrocity occurred in the quiet community — proving extreme criminal violence can occur anywhere, at any time.
Our suspect, Michael Hance had been voted “most helpful” by his high school classmates: but he was 51 now, and time changes people. He lived with his girlfriend of some 20 years in a house she and her brother had inherited from her late father, whom Hance helped to nurse through a long, sad period of dementia. While some neighbors found him helpful and courteous, others disliked him and even feared him. Unemployed for some time, he was known to sit in his yard in a kayak and paddle the air, and to scream violently at a neighbor’s child.
Hance was described as delusional, while others viewed him as depressed; it would later be reported herbal remedies represented the extent of his only mental health care. While many noticed his mental deterioration, none thought it serious. Never institutionalized, he legally owned firearms. In 2005, he bought a 6″-barrel Smith & Wesson Model 586 Blue Steel .357 Magnum. Five days before the incident, he purchased a 10-shot Hi-Point .45 autoloader from the same pawnshop.
The Johnson family, who lived next door, had been friends of the original owner and complained to Hance about how run-down he had allowed the inherited house to become. A tarp on the roof, torn-up ground instead of a lawn and a dilapidated car became a real eyesore.
Hance had been bitter toward them ever since. Craig Deiter, the brother of Hance’s longtime girlfriend, was concerned about the situation and came up with his family from Kentucky to visit. On the morning in question, the Dieters were next door talking with their old friends, the Johnson’s, when Michael Hance snapped.
The Killing Spree
With six rounds of Remington semi-jacketed .357 hollowpoints in his S&W, Michael Hance sets out to settle his vendetta. A speedloader, filled with the same ammo and another quick-loader with soft nose Magnum rounds, rests in his pocket. He also has the .45 loaded with Remington jacketed hollowpoints, a spare 9-round magazine of the same ammunition and one more magazine of 230-gr. CBC hardball.
The murders begin in the driveway between where Hance lives and the Johnson home. Hance shoots neighbor Russell Johnson, 67, once in the torso and once in the head, and pumps five rounds into his girlfriend’s brother. He then chases Johnson’s wife Gudrun and shoots her from behind three times — once in the back and twice through the buttocks. She falls, and he stands over her and executes her with a bullet to the back of the head.
Hance finds the Johnson’s granddaughter Autumn, 16, and her friend, Amelia Shambaugh, 16, in a black Saturn SUV in the driveway and fires through the windows. He kills Autumn in the front passenger seat and Amelia in the back seat. Some witnesses describe the murderer as wielding a gun in each hand.
Hance reloads the .45 and either intentionally or accidentally drops the .357, which now holds two live rounds and four fired casings. Then, he roams away from the Johnson home, looking for more victims.
Also left behind in his wake, is his longtime girlfriend, Rebecca Dieter. He shot her through her right arm and into her chest. She laid still and played dead as — according to witnesses — Michael Hance stood over her body, calmly reloading. She’ll be his only surviving victim this day.
People in the neighborhood have heard the shots and, recognizing the danger, are running from him. Some, he ignores. Others, he chases and doesn’t get close enough to harm them. Not everyone is so lucky. Bryan Johnson, 44, the son of Russell and Gudrun, collapses in a driveway with six gunshot wounds, including a fatal shot to the head.
The youngest object of the madman’s hatred is Scotty Dieter, age 11. Hance is chasing the child down the street when he sees another neighbor looking at him. He slows down — as if preparing to shoot — and then realizes the neighbor is pointing a Glock pistol at him! Hance abruptly turns and runs out of the neighbor’s line of sight.
Safe for now, Hance looks around and sees the young boy run into another house. He circles the place, looking for entry, and finally breaks in. Scotty has fled for shelter in the home of a neighboring child, Dae’Shawn Bagley, age nine. The boys were hidden in the basement by the time Hance confronts Dae’Shawn’s mom, Melonie Bagley, who is trying to get her two smaller children upstairs to safety.
Hance puts his gun to her head and snarls, “Where’s the little boy?”
Melonie Bagley defiantly screams, “There’s no little boy!” Frustrated, the murderer turns and begins to search for the child, giving Melonie time to scoop up her two little ones and sprint to safety.
But Michael Hance now searches the basement, finding Scotty behind the furnace. Hance’s evil now reaches its peak: without a word, he raises his gun and shoots the little boy in the head, killing him instantly and spattering blood all over Dae’Shawn as he cringes in his own hiding place. The Dieter child will be Hance’s seventh murder victim.
And his last.
Hance now races up the stairs, through the door and out into the street. He hears male voices shouting commands at him, and he turns to see two armed men by a tree pointing guns his way. One is the neighbor with the Glock. The other is a uniformed policeman with an AR-15.
However belatedly, Justice has arrived for the monster Michael Hance.
Keith Lavery’s Perspective
Keith Lavery, 40, had stayed home that quiet Sunday morning to tend to his 10-year-old son, who was sick in bed, while his wife, daughter and younger son went to church. They were blessedly spared from the morning horror about to unfold. When he heard the first gunfire and screaming, Lavery thought it might be a suicide, but the next volley convinced him otherwise.
Now a criminal justice instructor, Lavery had spent 20 years as a sworn law enforcement officer, beginning as an MP. As he called in to 9-1-1 to report shots fired, he raced upstairs to scoop up his son and bring him downstairs to ground level, where he tucked him away behind a sofa and told him to stay there.
Then, he ran back upstairs to the master bedroom, where the Glock 23 his wife carried on duty as an officer was secured on a high shelf in the closet. In the agonizingly long seconds it took him to retrieve the separated magazine, insert it into the pistol and rack the slide, he felt things start to go into slow motion. By the time he confirmed the .40-caliber pistol had a Hydra-Shok cartridge chambered, his police training had kicked in.
Rushing downstairs, he told his son to stay put behind cover, then cautiously made his way out the front door with his phone and pistol toward a solid fence for some cover. In moments, he saw a tall man running down the street. Though he had lived in this neighborhood since 2005, he hadn’t been acquainted with the reclusive Hance. All he saw was a man with a black semi-auto.
As they make eye contact, Hance did a stutter-step, seemingly to ready himself to shoot. Lavery told me he didn’t think Hance noticed the gun in his hand until he raised the Glock and took aim — prompting Hance to run out of sight. Lavery again called 9-1-1 to describe the suspect and his approximate location.
Seconds later, the first responding patrol car pulled into Lavery’s view, driven by Copley Police Officer Ben Campbell, who emerged with his Colt AR-15 A3 Tactical Carbine patrol rifle. Campbell and Lavery recognized each other immediately — they had worked together in the past when Lavery was still a cop.
They moved together toward where Lavery had last seen the suspect. They heard gunfire, and literally “went to the sound of the guns,” covering each other as they rapidly but cautiously advanced. They were now at a big tree near the house where they’d heard the gunfire, the Bagley home.
As they were moving, Campbell told Lavery he ought to go back to his house and protect his son. Lavery responded he wasn’t going to leave Campbell alone to deal with this monster.
At this point, Dan Gannon, a retired officer who lived in the neighborhood and was unarmed, arrived to help. Knowing an unarmed man couldn’t help with this, Lavery asked him to go to his home and keep an eye on his boy. The man complied.
And then, Michael Hance burst from the house in which he had just murdered little Scotty Dieter, his .45 in hand. Keith Lavery now had a focused crisis to deal with.
As the mass murderer explodes into view, 20 years of policing make Keith Lavery a creature of his training and experience. “Get on the ground,” he roars in command voice. “Get on the ground!”
He is aware Officer Ben Campbell, beside him, is shouting something similar. But instead of obeying the commands, the running man swings his pistol up, aiming it toward them and — it seemed to Lavery — toward him in particular.
Lavery fires without a sight picture, opting for point shooting. In his mind, he thinks he fired twice, though in actuality it was three times. He hears a very loud “crack” to his side and realizes Campbell has triggered his .223, though he doesn’t realize the officer has also fired three shots. Hance keeps running, and for an instant, it seems to each of the good guys as if Hance hasn’t been hit, but then he pitches to the ground and lies still.
Their guns still up and covering the threat, Lavery and Campbell cautiously approach. The black Hi-Point pistol has wound up in the armpit of the gunman’s crumpled body, not in-hand. Carefully, Lavery passes his Glock to Campbell and swaps for the officer’s handcuffs, and moves in to secure the suspect. There is no resistance as he clamps the bracelets on.
In the emotion of the moment, Lavery snaps, “Why did you do it?!” He hears Campbell utter something similar. But there is no response. He sees Michael Hance’s labored breathing cease. The man’s eyes appear to glaze over and Lavery knows he is watching the monster die.
There are sirens in the distance, coming closer. From the volume of the gunfire, neither man can be sure this murderer was the only predator. Campbell hands the Glock back to Lavery, who carefully circles the outside of the house to make sure there are no more perpetrators in sight. Backup officers are arriving now. The scene is pandemonium. One of the first responding backups enters the house, and discovers the bloody corpse of little Scotty Dieter.
In the following hectic moments, one uniformed lawman asks Keith Lavery what he’s doing there and then tells him to get out of the crime scene. It’s a sign of things to come.
It was later said Hance’s rampage was the worst mass murder to take place in the state of Ohio. In September of 2011, the prosecutor’s office publicly ruled the use of deadly force against Michael Hance by Copley Police Officer Ben Campbell and by Keith Lavery was justified.
The autopsy showed two Hornady TAP .223 rounds — fired by Ben Campbell — struck Hance: one of which caught his arm, while the other pierced his torso, striking him dead. It was later reported a private citizen with a concealed carry permit and a handgun on his person was driving through the neighborhood with his lady on a motorcycle when the shooting took place and, when he heard the gunfire, exited the scene.
In May 2012, Ben Campbell’s courageous and decisive action earned him a place among 34 law officers presented the America’s TOP COPS award at the White House by President Barrack Obama. In March 2013, he received the Congressional Badge of Bravery. In April 2013, the Summit County Council presented commendations for bravery to Officer Campbell and to Dae’Shawn Bagley, the little boy who watched in horror as Hance murdered Scotty Dietz.
No such public recognition has been given to Keith Lavery, or to the unarmed retired cop (and another unarmed, off-duty policeman) who responded to the scene.
Reading through the police reports on this incident is a horror story and a profound lesson is revealed: the strength of the armed trumps the helplessness of the unarmed. There were people who locked themselves in their home, while others ran into the nearby swamp behind the neighborhood and climbed out of windows. There was the brave, but helpless, mom who screamed, “There is no little boy!” Who can blame them for not stopping a monster they had no wherewithal to defeat?
Nor can I fault the armed citizen who unknowingly drove into the situation, not having any idea what was going on, and exited the danger zone with the woman he loved. Most CCW instructors tell their students to do exactly this in such cases.
It was fortunate Lavery and Officer Campbell knew each other. An unidentified citizen with a visible gun approaching a responding officer could create a mistaken identity issue.
We live in a nation of more than 300 million citizens policed by some 800,000 cops, who work 40 hours of a 168-hour week — of course not counting time spent in court, training or while away on leave. To their credit, the Copley Township Police got there quickly.
According to the official report, the first 9-1-1 call came in at 10:55:57 a.m. Police were dispatched to the scene at 10:57:11. Lavery’s first call came in at 11:00:19 a.m., describing what are now believed the shots at Rebecca Dieter. Campbell reported on-scene in the neighborhood at 11:00:37. Lavery’s second encounter after he drove the killer away at gunpoint was phoned in at 11:01:01. And, at 11:05:21 a.m., Ben Campbell radioed in the suspect was down.
Yes, this is how fast these things happen. The cops got there 21/2 minutes after the dispatcher picked up on the first call — an excellent response time. But, it was still too late to save the victims.
Other lessons: If a crazy neighbor hates you, it might be a good idea to carry a gun on your person and be ready to instantly respond if he acts out homicidally. A reconstruction of the crime scene shows the running Hance was 49 to 58 feet away from Campbell and Lavery when they fired on him; no easy target.
Campbell, with an AR-15, hit him two out of three shots and dropped him, while Lavery did not score a hit. Does this provide a rationale for good guys to have AR-15s maybe? Lavery was point-shooting instead of precisely aiming at a fast-moving man over 50 feet away — a lesson there, too.
Don’t ignore crazy people. Many who saw Hance’s aberrant behavior did nothing about it. He wound up murdering seven people, including three innocent children.
Have your gun ready to go, where you can reach it swiftly. How many of Hance’s victims might have survived if they had done so?
Finally, remember in the politically correct world of American politics and media, heroism may go ignored. Ben Campbell deserved every award he received; he is one of a growing list of cops who saved lives by riding alone to the sound of the guns and not waiting for backup.
But, in a world smart enough to recognize Campbell’s courage, how can our society be foolish enough to ignore the courage of armed citizens like Keith Lavery? Or the unarmed retired cop Dan Gannon, who still went toward the threat instead of away from it on this terrible day in Copley?
G. Gordon Liddy once wrote current cops talk about retired lawmen in the past tense, as if they were dead. Keith Lavery, who first used a Glock to drive the wolf back from the bunny it was chasing, put himself back in the line of fire to end the threat to his neighborhood. The fact he was then promptly ignored and marginalized in the aftermath says a lot. If it was because he was merely an armed citizen — no longer an active police officer — then the failure to recognize his contribution is nothing short of disgraceful.
By Massad Ayoob