COPLEY TWP: Melonie Bagley will never forget the look in Michael Hance’s eyes when he burst into her home a year ago today and turned her world upside down.
“He was a monster,” she said.
Bagley said she has changed virtually everything about her life — with one notable exception — since the day Hance fatally shot seven people in their Copley neighborhood. His final victim, 11-year-old Scott Dieter, was killed in the basement of Bagley’s former Schocalog Road home as he sought refuge with her and her children.
“I will never relive every detail of that day to anyone but [Scott’s] mother,” Bagley said last week. “I think I owe her that. I think every mother would want to know the final minutes of her child’s life. I want her to know I did my best.
“But I understand she’s not ready yet. I can’t imagine what she is going through — losing both her husband and son all in the same day. That has to be devastating.
“But whether it’s tomorrow or 10 years from now, I am willing to talk to her. It’s why I never changed my phone number.”
Little else about Bagley’s life has gone unaltered since last Aug. 7.
She moved to a home less than a mile away from the shooting scene, in a more secluded area with fewer neighbors. The residence includes a high-tech alarm system.
Those changes help her sleep through the night, but, “I will never forget every second and every minute of that day, no matter how hard I try,” Bagley said.
She relives how she tried to hide Scott and her children behind the furnace. After Hance broke into the basement — and put a gun to her head — Bagley denied Scott was with her. She then tried to escape, while holding her 1- and 3-year-old daughters, and instructed her son and Scott to follow her up the stairs to safety as Hance searched the basement.
Bagley said Scott, who must have been paralyzed with fear, did not follow. Nor did her son, Dae’Shawn, who later told his mom that “someone had to stay with the little boy.”
By the time Bagley reached the third step, she heard the gunshot.
She didn’t want to know what happened.
But she knew.
Scott died just minutes after Hance had killed his father, Craig Dieter of Kentucky. The family had been visiting relatives in Copley.
After the shooting, Bagley moved out of the house and into a hotel. She wouldn’t let employees come in to clean her room. Instead, she would ask for clean towels and sheets and do her own housekeeping.
When people donated food, the deliveries went through one person — someone she knew. She’s suspicious of almost everyone.
She said that before the shooting, she stayed home a lot.
“I wasn’t much for going out to clubs and always stayed in the house on New Year’s Eve, but when this happened, I realized you aren’t even safe in your own home,” she said. “There are crazy people everywhere.”
Her mother asked her to move back into the home they shared at the time of the shooting. Bagley’s bedroom was in the basement.
“She told me to take another bedroom,” Bagley said. “I already couldn’t sleep. I knew I would never be able to sleep in that house again.
“I did go back, but only to get my things. I didn’t take everything because it just wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t stay there too long.”
Son returns to home
Bagley said her son went back to the home, but gradually.
“The therapist told me not to pressure him,” she said. “At first he would stay outside and play with the dog or go in only to get a drink of water.
“When he did work his way into the house, he wouldn’t go upstairs or downstairs. Then one day he told me he had to do it for himself. He went downstairs, walked through the basement quickly and came back up. He’s never been back inside the house.”
The house now sits empty. Bagley’s mother has moved out.
Bagley said her 10-year-old son is doing much better.
“Dae’Shawn is doing great. He no longer has nightmares. His therapy ended earlier this year,” his mother said. “He doesn’t talk about the shooting. He told the counselor that he didn’t want to upset me.”
Bagley said Destany, her 4-year-old daughter, occasionally will ask something like, “ ‘Remember that man that tried to hurt us and killed that little boy?’ And I have to remind her that he will not be able to harm us or anybody else because the police shot him. My brother took her over to the dead man in the driveway to reassure her he couldn’t hurt anyone anymore.”
Bagley tried to shield her children from news accounts of the recent shootings in a Colorado movie theater.
“I turned the television off before they could see it,” she said. “They don’t need to be reminded of that day [last year].”
As for herself, Bagley said, she is doing better. She said she started having nightmares again in June, after a television crew asked her to go over every detail of the incident. She refused.
“They also asked if my son could go over the whole thing, too,” she said. “I said absolutely not. I’m not putting him through that again.”
Still searching for safety
Bagley, a lifelong resident of Copley, is engaged and acknowledges she has clung to her fiance since the shooting.
“He’s a good man. He has been there for me ever since it happened,” she said.
She credits him for finding a top-of-the-line alarm system, something that will go off at the sound of glass shattering, recalling that Hance got into her former home by breaking glass in the side door and reaching in to unlock it.
“I had to find a place that I feel safe,” she said. “A place to protect my kids better and to help them forget the past and make new memories.”
She said people ask her why she wouldn’t tell Hance where the boy was hiding. She has been accused of putting her own kids’ lives in jeopardy.
“It’s a mother’s instinct to protect. Until you are a mother or parent, you wouldn’t understand,” she said. “I would hope that if given a similar circumstance that someone would do the same thing for my children — to at least try to protect them.”
She has spent a year doing a lot of second-guessing.
“What if I had hidden the boy better, under a pile of clothes or toys or behind something?” she asked. “We went to the basement because it was dark. I thought it would be too dark to see anything or anybody, but [Hance] had a flashlight.”
Bagley said there’s always a lot of blame to go around after the fact.
“It’s hard to think clearly when you are afraid, but I hope no one ever has to go through anything as frightening and gruesome as that day.”
She said it’s still hard to accept that Scott Dieter died on her watch. She said her guardian angel that day must have been her father, who died five years ago.
“My dad used to say, ‘Bullets don’t have no names on them,’ ” Bagley said. “That man could have shot any of us, but for some reason, he really had it out for that little boy.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.