Copley Township Patrolman Ben Campbell has been hailed as a hero for tracking down and stopping a killer.
He doesn’t quite see it the same way.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” he said Wednesday. “I feel like a policeman who did his job.”
Campbell’s first public comments came Wednesday, the same day his Aug. 7 shooting of Michael Hance was found to be justified after a review by Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh.
The review found that Campbell acted appropriately when he shot and killed Hance after the gunman had already killed seven people.
Keith Lavery, a neighbor and former police officer who also shot at Hance in an attempt to end the shooting spree, also was found to be justified in his use of deadly force.
A 20-year police veteran, Campbell returns to duty on Saturday for the first time since the shooting. He said he’s anxious and ready.
“People ask me if I feel bad because I took a life. And I don’t feel bad,” he said. “I feel I acted appropriately and my heart goes out to the victims. I hope they find peace.”
Hance, 51, used two handguns to hunt down his next-door neighbors, three children and members of his girlfriend Becky Dieter’s family on a Sunday morning. Police have yet to release a possible motive for his rampage.
Toxicology tests released Wednesday show Hance had no drugs or alcohol in his system, a spokesman for the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office said.
On the day of the shooting, Campbell was working patrol around Copley Circle. It was typically slow outside of the usual church-going traffic. He sipped a Starbucks coffee in his cruiser.
Then came the “shots fired” call over the police radio just before 11 a.m. It was, Campbell said, a routine, common call in a township where firing guns is permitted.
While making his way to Goodenough Avenue on the eastern end of Copley, Campbell heard of a shooting victim. Still, the magnitude wasn’t setting in.
It wasn’t until he pulled up to the street that a person he doesn’t know by name walked up and told him the news. He also heard some gunfire.
“You got a guy who just killed five people,” the man told Campbell. He went on to describe Hance and where he headed.
Campbell said the information proved crucial. At the time, he was the first and only officer to arrive. He went inside his cruiser and pulled out his AR-15 rifle and walked down Goodenough toward Schocalog Road. He heard more gunfire.
It was then, Campbell recalled, that he felt most vulnerable as he walked down Schocalog Road in search of the gunman.
“That was the worst part of it,” he said. “It was scary because I felt very vulnerable. I didn’t know where [Hance] was exactly.”
As he walked, Campbell met up with Lavery, a former police officer he’s known for years. Campbell told Lavery, who was armed with a gun, to go back inside his home. Lavery refused. Instead, the two men walked down the shaded street, seeking cover near the trees, looking for the gunman.
In a flash, Hance appeared at the end of a driveway. Police say he had just killed his last victim, Scott Dieter, 11, at point-blank range inside a house.
Earlier, he killed Gudrun Johnson, 64, and her husband, Russell Johnson, 67. Both were found in the driveway of their Goodenough Avenue home.
The Johnsons’ granddaughter Autumn Johnson, 16, and friend Amelia Shambaugh, 16, both Copley High students, were killed in a minivan parked in the driveway.
Hance had already killed Scott Dieter’s father, Craig, 51, and the Johnsons’ son, Bryan, 44. Hance also shot his girlfriend and Craig Dieter’s sister, Rebecca Dieter, twice. She was recently released from a hospital.
Campbell wasn’t yet aware of the boy’s death, but he said the apprehension he felt during his hunt for Hance disappeared. His training, particularly from Copley police firearm instructors Joe Krunich and Jeff Newman, took over, he said.
“Just all of a sudden [Hance] comes walking out between two houses,” he said. “It totally caught him off guard. I was right there. I had my rifle aimed at him. I gave him verbal commands: ‘Drop your weapon. Drop your weapon.’
“As soon as I saw him, the fear just went away from me. He jumped. He was kind of startled and he pointed his gun at me.”
Campbell said Hance ignored his orders to surrender and started to raise his weapon in an effort to flee. It was then that Campbell and Lavery each fired their shots from about 60 feet away. Only Campbell’s shots hit Hance, one in the side, one in the arm.
Hance ran about 30 feet before collapsing. Campbell said he went to the gunman and tried to ask him why.
“He looked at me and I said, ‘What are you doing? Why did you do this? How many people did you shoot?’ ” Campbell recalled. He never got an answer.
In her ruling, Walsh said Campbell’s actions were appropriate and legal.
“Officer Campbell had a reasonable and justifiable belief that Hance would continue to shoot at people after Hance shot eight people and then refused to comply with police officers’ verbal commands to drop his weapon and surrender,” she said.
Campbell, 41, has been on routine paid leave while the shooting was investigated. In his spare time, the married father with two children operates his own carpet-cleaning business, Campbell’s Carpet Cleaning and Tile. He’s nicknamed “The Carpet Cop.”
He said he has talked to counselors about the shooting and feels comfortable in his role in the township’s most horrific day.
“I just have to let it go,” he said. “[Hance] did what he did.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or email@example.com. Staff writer Kathy Antoniotti contributed to this report.