COPLEY — Police identified the man responsible for shooting and killing seven people in a terrifying rampage over the weekend near Akron, as a woman who knew him said Monday that he was an unpleasant, disliked person who was involved in an estate dispute.
Michael Hance, 51, died in a shootout with police in Copley after the Sunday spree that included an 11-year-old among the victims.
Robin Hancock, a caregiver for a couple slain in the rampage, went to the police station in Copley on Monday to hear updates on the killings and the identification of Hance as the gunman.
“He was quiet and strange,” said Hancock, 53, of Akron.
One shooting victim who survived was Becky Dieter, Hance’s girlfriend of more than two decades, she said. Hance had become embroiled in a dispute over the will of Dieter’s late parents, and a couple next door who were longtime friends with Dieter’s parents got involved, Hancock said.
That couple, 67-year-old Russ Johnson and his 64-year-old wife, Gerdie, were among the seven people police say Hance shot and killed. Hance’s confrontational behavior had led Hancock to leave her job taking care of the couple, she said.
Police combed three homes and searched outside a fourth in a wooded residential area of Copley, collecting evidence as they tried to piece together what happened during the shootings that shook the quiet neighborhood.
Authorities were withholding the names and ages of those involved until officers could tell victims’ family members, some of whom were out of state, Copley police Sgt. Eric Goodwin said. Autopsies began Monday.
Hance shot his girlfriend in one home, ran next door, shot her brother and gunned down four neighbors, police say. He then chased four people — two through backyards — shooting one of them before bursting into a home where two others had sought refuge.
Police said he shot an eighth person there and left, only to get into a gunfight outside with a police officer and a citizen who had been a police officer.
Neighbors said that the dead included an 11-year-old boy and that at least three victims were from one family.
The Akron Beacon Journal reported that Copley-Fairlawn School Superintendent Brian Poe said he was told by a township trustee that two Copley High School students were killed. Poe said the trustee told him the 11-year-old was not a Copley student.
Gilbert Elie, who has lived in the neighborhood for 11 years, heard the gunshots and cries for help as he got ready for church. In an account that differed slightly from the police version, Elie said he went to a house across the street and found Gerdie Johnson lying in the driveway, her husband shot near the garage, and their granddaughter and another woman shot in the front seat of a vehicle, the windows apparently blown out by gunfire.
A third woman came out of the house next door and tried to talk to Elie, he said, but their brief exchange ended abruptly when a man followed her out of the house and shot her, sending the 76-year-old Elie running for safety behind a truck.
“She was talking to me, and he come up behind her and shot her, so I figured, maybe I’m next,” he told The Associated Press.
He hid until he could see the gunman was gone, then returned home. Police arrived, and Elie said he heard a second round of shots coming from behind the houses and assumed officers had killed the gunman.
Elie said the ordeal has left residents of their well-kept neighborhood shaken and full of questions about the gunman’s motive. Elie described him as generally unfriendly, a rarity on the street, and said he often worked on his car outside his house but never waved at anyone.
Some of the victims were from out of state, Copley police Sgt. Eric Goodwin said.
Brian and Diane Cross said they were riding on a motorcycle Sunday morning when they heard a loud bang and saw a man with a gun chasing another man. Brian Cross, 53, said that they drove a half-mile to a service station to call 911, but that “Copley police was already on it, and they were flying by us.”
Around sunset, about 200 people assembled at a park for a candlelight vigil for the shooting victims in their town and crime victims elsewhere. Some residents said they set up a memorial fund.
Some saw a double rainbow, including Kelly Kerr Gill, who was one of more than 100 people who posted condolences on a Facebook page set up for a family that lost several members. “Your double rainbow sent from heaven did not go unnoticed … was truly a sign from God that those taken are ok,” she wrote.
The Rev. Jeff Bogue of the Grace Church of Greater Akron prayed with those gathered about faith in the wake of violence.
“This is troubling, Lord, why such evil would come to our little township,” he said.
Copley Township is west of Akron and about 40 miles south of Cleveland.