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The Grand Rapids Press
Published: Tuesday, October 4, 2011
By John Agar | The Grand Rapids Press
GRAND RAPIDS In a hand-written note to his mother, Rodrick Dantzler, said “demons,” depression and failed relationships triggered his July 7 rampage that left seven people dead across the city’s Northeast Side, including two children.
“Mama, I know you gonna b (sic) sad and disappointed, but I’m tired of living with these demons in my head. I tried getting help but the medicine didn’t help! … If hell is anything like what I deal with on a regular basis then I’ll be fine. Maybe God will understand and have mercy on my soul.”
The letter, and statements he made to others on that deadly day, offer “some insight” into his motive for killing, but “we will never know with certainty what motivated him,” Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth wrote in a final police report on the mass murders, released Tuesday.
Forsyth chronicled events of the deadly day that included multiple crimes scenes, police chases and shoot-outs along city streets. Police also released reports that detailed, for the first time, Dantzler’s final hours, when he shot himself in the head after taking hostages.
In-car video showed officers crashing into Dantzler’s SUV, and the suspect exchanging gunfire with police.
Forsyth was asked by Police Chief Kevin Belk to review the police investigation, and determine if Dantzler was responsible for the violence, and if officers were legally justified in using deadly force. Forsyth determined that Dantzler acted alone, and said police responded appropriately, even heroically.
“I am convinced that but for the extraordinary efforts of the Grand Rapids Police Department, additional lives could have been lost,” Forsyth wrote to the chief.
The toll was already high when police responded to a 2:30 p.m. call from Victoria Dantzler that her son said he’d killed his wife. Then, she heard a gunshot.
Police responded to his home at 2047 Janes Ave. NE. No one was there. Police started getting calls of other violent encounters on the street.
At 3:14 p.m., a caller asked police to check on Dantzler’s estranged wife, Jennifer Heeren-Dantzler, 29, who was living with her daughter, Kamrie Heeren-Dantzler, 12, at her parent’s home at 1270 Brynell Court NE. Police found the two, along with her parents, Thomas and Rebecca Heeren, dead of multiple gunshot wounds. Police found an empty 12-shot magazine for a 9 mm Glock.
Three minutes after that call, Patricia Emkens reported her nightmare: her daughters, Amanda Emkens, 27, and Kimberlee Emkens, 23, and Amanda’s daughter, Marissa, 10, had been shot to death in their Northeast Side home. Rodrick Dantzler
Dantzler was the primary suspect from the start. He had talked to friends that afternoon, and, after a shooting during a road-rage incident, met up with Willie Cunningham, whose white Suburban was later used in the police chase.
Cunningham told police Dantzler needed a ride to “his girl’s car.” Cunningham didn’t know then that Dantzler had already killed the woman; he thought they were just going to hang out.
He said Dantzler was drinking vodka and snorting cocaine.
About an hour after he picked up Dantzler, Cunningham learned he was wanted in the killings. When Cunningham asked “what was going on,” Dantzler said he “just lost it,” the reports showed.
Dantzler described some of the killings, and blamed it on someone owing him money.
Cunningham told Dantzler to turn himself in, but Dantzler “refused and talked about ‘killing himself,’” Forsyth wrote.
Later, around 7 p.m., Dantzler saw an acquaintance, April Swanson, and told Cunningham to catch up to her. Swanson saw him, and started driving toward the police station downtown. Cunningham bailed out of the SUV. Dantzler got behind the wheel.
Swanson, aware of the killings, called 911. Moments later, Dantzler fired five shots at her, hitting her in the shoulder.
Police then rammed Dantzler’s vehicle and he sped away, eventually ditching his vehicle off I-96. Police tried to chase him on foot, and saw him kick in a door and enter a house at 3232 Rickman Ave. Police heard three gunshots.
Ten minutes later, around 7:30 p.m., Dantzler called dispatchers “‘to talk to someone in charge,’ and demanded that police ‘stop barking orders at him,’” Forsyth said.
Police heard another gunshot eight minutes later.
Inside the residence, Joyce Bean, Steve Helderman and Megan Holmes were aware of the pursuit after watching newscasts. Helderman could see police lights on the highway. Moments later, Bean yelled, “He’s in the backyard.”
After Dantzler kicked the door down, the women ran to hide in a back bedroom. Holmes, a visitor, got under the bed. As Helderman closed the door, Dantzler fired several rounds through the door. He then fired toward the back deck where he believed police had set up.
Eventually, Dantzler found Bean. She and Helderman watched Dantzler use cocaine, and described him as “agitated and extremely paranoid.”
He did not tell them about killing anyone, but he complained that “‘My wife divorced me and took my kid away,’” Forsyth wrote.
Dantzler also complained that “he had a bad day.”
Sgt. Matthew Janiskee, lead negotiator, stayed in communication with Dantzler. He convinced Dantzler to release Bean in exchange for Gatorade and cigarettes.
“At various times during the course of negotiations, Sgt. Janiskee described Dantzler as ‘very agitated’ and acting if he was ‘losing it,’” Forsyth wrote. “In addition, during one of the phone calls, Steve Helderman told Sgt. Janiskee that Dantzler was ‘freaking out.’”
At 9:30 p.m., Dantzler told the sergeant he was going to kill himself. A few minutes later, he fired at an air vent thinking he saw a police camera. The Special Response Team, just outside the house, had orders to enter if they heard gunfire. They slipped in through a basement door.
Officer Philip Nevins climbed the stairs.
“I located Rodrick in that hallway,” Nevins wrote. “He had a handgun in his right hand that he was pointing at me. We exchanged gunfire … .”
Neither was hit.
Dantzler retreated, and forced Helderman into a bedroom closet. Dantzler became frustrated because of Helderman’s lack of hearing, and threatened to shoot him, which prompted Holmes to come out of hiding.
Police continued to try to convince Dantzler to give up, but he repeatedly said he wanted to “end it.” When Janiskee, the negotiator, told Dantzler to come out, he replied, “No man.”
At 11:29 p.m., Dantzler put the stolen 9 mm, tied to all of the killings, to his head. Helderman watched, but turned away just before Dantzler squeezed the trigger.
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