COPLEY TWP..: The message board for the first day of school at Copley High today reads: “Welcome Back Students” and announces an open house from 7 to 9 tonight.
No longer are the trees on the front lawn tied with ribbons in memory of seven people killed Aug. 7 in the shooting spree by a lone gunman in a Copley neighborhood. Among the dead were two Copley High students, Autumn Johnson and Amelia Lynn Shambaugh, each 16.
Also killed were the gunman’s neighbor Russell Johnson, 67; his wife, Gudrun Johnson, 64; their son Bryan Johnson (Autumn’s father), 44; and Craig Dieter, 51; and his son, Scott, 11, who were visiting from Kentucky. The shooter’s girlfriend, Rebecca Dieter, was shot several times but survived and remains in a local hospital.
A Copley police officer fatally shot the mass killer, Michael E. Hance.
School officials say it is hard to find normalcy after the shooting incident, and any future memorial service will be a private matter.
“Right now we are allowing the grieving process to take place,” Copley-Fairlawn Superintendent Brian Poe said. “We have received a lot of interest from people wanting to help and wanting to start memorials, but we haven’t made any decisions with that yet. We are going to give it some time.
“We definitely are going to do something, but we want to make sure it’s appropriate for the situation.”
Poe said the shootings were discussed in a recent districtwide staff meeting, and there was a moment of silence for the victims.
Talks with students
“We will have our guidance counselors and crisis team available for students,” Poe said. “Mr. [Cameron] Ryba [school principal] has individual grade-level assemblies planned, and during the assemblies he will touch base on it with the students.”
Poe asked that no media come on the school grounds during this time, to protect the students.
“As difficult as this was, I think it’s important that we keep our family intact here and rely on one another as we have over the past few weeks without it being a public display for everyone else,” he said.
Meanwhile, Copley police still are trying to make some sense of the tragedy, retracing the line of events, gathering information from witnesses and putting together the investigations of four separate locations where the shootings took place. Police have not determined Hance’s motive.
Chief Michael Mier said they have learned the two guns Hance carried were the .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun he bought at a local pawnshop Aug. 2 and a .357 Magnum revolver he purchased from the same location in 2005.
Mier said Hance apparently didn’t know how to use the .45-caliber handgun and went to a shooting range on Barber Road on either Aug. 4 or Aug. 5 (records are unclear) for instructions. It is not known how long he practiced or how many shots he fired.
“The .357 Magnum shoots six rounds, but the semiautomatic weapon shoots bullets as fast as you can pull the trigger,” Mier said. “The bullets are being analyzed. We are still waiting for those results.”
The Akron Police Department, Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation are working with Copley police on the investigation.
“All of the agencies collected information from the different crime scenes, while Copley police have since conducted the bulk of the work by interviewing witnesses and evaluating evidence,” Mier said.
“This is a large investigation, all-encompassing. We have most of the information from the other agencies that assisted us but are still waiting to get complete information from the Summit County sheriff’s department,” Mier said. “Once we get their information, we will put it all together and finalize the report and send it to the prosecutor’s office for them to render an opinion on whether excessive force was used by the police officer who shot and killed the suspect.
“The holdup is there is so much information out there that we are working on and the other agencies kind enough to help us out.”
Mier said the results of the Summit County sheriff’s investigation are expected by the end of this week or next.
“Detectives are still putting everything together. Meanwhile we still haven’t been able to interview the girlfriend yet,” Mier said. “We are still waiting for the appropriate time to interview her.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.