Michigan man who killed 7, self 'just lost it'

AP News
Posted: Oct 04, 2011 6:04 PM
Michigan man who killed 7, self 'just lost it'

An ex-convict who killed seven people in July before taking his own life in a Grand Rapids shooting spree had pledged in a suicide note to take his mother-in-law "with me."

Grand Rapids police released new information about the case Tuesday, including video and audio recordings.

Officials probably won't ever know with certainty why Rodrick Dantzler fatally shot a former girlfriend, his estranged wife, his 12-year-old daughter and four others related to them, including his mother-in law, police Chief Kevin Belk said.

Dantzler's suicide note "obviously indicated his frustration" with his estranged wife and her parents, Belk said. "Why he continues his rampage throughout the day . . . I don't think we'll ever know."

Dantzler shot at four police officers July 7 as he led them on a 12-minute chase through city streets and nearby highways, a prosecutor's report said. He wounded two people in downtown Grand Rapids during the chase and took three people hostage in a four-hour standoff. He released one before killing himself.

The 34-year-old fueled himself during the rampage with snorts of cocaine, police said.

He told his friend Willie Cunningham that he was upset with his estranged wife, Jennifer Heeren-Dantzler, 29, because she had taken his 12-year-old daughter for three days and not returned her.

In a suicide note left for his mother, he complained, "it seems like everyone that loves me walk (sic) out of my life."

Dantzler blamed his mother-in-law for talking Heeren-Dantzler into leaving him, writing, "I dont (sic) have anything nice 2 say about her! I gonna take her with me!!!"

Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth said police found an empty 12-shot clip at his in-laws' home and a 30-shot clip emptied of all but three bullets with Dantzler where he died.

"It would appear that he was simply a very angry man," Forsyth wrote in his report on the shootings. "Driven by anger and emboldened by alcohol and cocaine, he murdered his in-laws, his wife and his daughter. He next murdered Kimberlee, Amanda and Marissa Emkens."

Dantzler previously dated Kimberlee Ann Emkens, 23. He also killed her sister, Amanda Renee Emkens, 27, and her niece, Marissa Lynn Emkens, 10.

Dantzler had a criminal record as far back as 1992, when he was charged as a juvenile with breaking and entering and car theft. That was followed over the next eight years by charges of trespassing, domestic violence, destruction of property, larceny and assault.

He couldn't legally own a firearm because of his criminal record but used a stolen .40-caliber handgun in the shootings.

He called Cunningham for a ride on the afternoon of the shooting spree but didn't initially tell him about the slayings. Cunningham told investigators his girlfriend called him about an hour later and said seven people were dead and police were looking for Dantzler. When Cunningham asked his passenger what had happened, Dantzler said he'd "just lost it."

He told Cunningham he'd killed his father-in-law first and then his mother-in-law, estranged wife and their daughter. He also said he'd killed someone else but didn't mention he'd killed seven people in all.

Cunningham urged Dantzler to turn himself in but Dantzler said he wanted to kill himself instead. Cunningham noticed police cars approaching from the rear and jumped out of the white Suburban without stopping the car. Dantzler slid behind the wheel and took off with police in pursuit. Eventually, he crashed and fled on foot.

Belk praised the three people taken hostage that evening for their coolness under pressure.

"Their actions were remarkable," he said.

All three hid as they saw Dantzler running through their backyard, but he found two of them, Steve Helderman and Joyce Bean. He eventually released Bean after receiving Gatorade and cigarettes.

When a special response team got in through the home's basement about halfway through the standoff, Dantzler took Helderman with him into a bedroom closet. Megan Holmes came out from under the bed to try to calm Dantzler when he became agitated and threatened to shoot Helderman,

Dantzler ended his killing spree by shooting himself in the head at 11:29 p.m.

The others killed in the shooting spree were Dantzler's 12-year-old daughter, Kamrie Deann Heeren-Dantzler; his mother-in-law, 52-year-old Rebecca Lynn Heeren; and his father-in-law, 51-year-old Thomas Heeren.


Kathy Barks Hoffman can be reached at http://twitter.com/kathybhoffman.