It was your typical, sleepy Sunday morning in suburban Copley Township.
Just three police officers were on duty and two of them were at the station booking a man on a warrant. The police chief was miles away on a hike with his family.
Officer Ben Campbell was alone, the sole patrolman on the road when the morning quiet was interrupted by Michael Hance. As it turned out, Campbell was all that was needed to end Hance’s shooting rampage.
The officer shot and killed Hance, but only after the Copley man had shot and killed seven others, including three children. The Aug. 7, 2011, shooting was one of the deadliest events in the United States last year.
It is also seared into the consciousness of Campbell and police Chief Michael Mier, who took time to reflect on the shootings, the victims and the community on the first anniversary of the tragedy.
“First of all, we have never forgotten that day,” Mier said. “When something like that happens, of course, it’s a little shocking. It’s not typical of Copley. What is typical was how the community came together and came together immediately. So, no one really forgets this incident. It’s always in the back of your mind.”
Mier said Copley is just another example of how these shootings can happen anywhere, anytime. Recent shootings at a school in Chardon and a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., are also grim reminders.
“There was nothing anybody could have done that day,” he said. “We just wish it hadn’t turned out the way it did.”
First to arrive
During an interview last week, Mier recounted the events as if he has retold the story dozens of times. It started with a dispatcher’s call to him while he was hiking with his family. At first, he was told there was an officer-related shooting. A short time later, he heard the full story and the horrific body count.
“Obviously, I knew that it was not a typical incident,” he said.
On the day of the shooting, Campbell was inside his cruiser sipping coffee when a “shots fired” dispatch blared over his radio. Dispatchers Michael Emerson and Sara Justice were bombarded with calls while sending out information to Campbell.
Such calls are sort of routine in the township and Campbell did not fully realize the magnitude of the attack until he arrived on Goodenough Avenue, where gunfire was still ringing.
“You got a guy who just killed five people,” a resident told Campbell. He went on to describe Hance and where the man was headed.
With an AR-15 rifle in hand, Campbell, still the only officer on the scene, walked down Goodenough toward Schocalog Road, where he heard more gunfire. The shooter could have been anywhere. Campbell had no idea.
Hance suddenly appeared at the end of a driveway after just killing his last victim. The armed man ignored the officer’s warnings and was shot and killed.
“Ben’s actions were clearly heroic because he didn’t wait for backup,” Mier said. “He knew that the shooter was on the run and he knew the best and most effective way to stop him was to get to the shooter as fast as possible. And he put life at risk doing that.”
For his actions, Campbell received a national law enforcement award in May and shook hands with President Barack Obama.
Copley dispatchers Emerson and Justice were recently honored by the Ohio Gold Star Award program for their efforts.
For months afterward, Campbell thought of the encounter with Hance almost every night. He still thinks of that morning often, especially the children who died. In the end, he remains proud of his work, knowing Hance intended to kill more.
“It was something that happened, something that happens to cops,” he said last week. “I feel good about what I did. I responded like any cop would. But still, the whole event is a tragedy.
“And it’s hard to think of any good coming out of something so horrific. Three kids killed, five adults shot. I think we really need to honor the victims and their families for the losses they went through. I can’t imagine losing a child, and for what? It makes no sense to what happened.”
After the shootings, Campbell met with Becky Dieter, Hance’s girlfriend, who was shot in the onslaught. Campbell said she reached out to him to offer her support.
“She wanted me to know that she feels I did the right thing, give us both some closure, I guess,” he said. “She really wanted to tell me that it’s OK and nobody looks at me like the bad guy.”
On a recent call to the neighborhood, Campbell said, he met with Michael Johnson, whose parents, Russell and Gudrun Johnson; brother, Bryan; and 16-year-old niece Autumn were killed by Hance.
Autumn’s friend Amelia Lynn Shambaugh was also killed. Craig Dieter, 51, and his son, Scott Dieter, 11, who were visiting Becky Dieter from Kentucky that weekend, were also killed. Michael Johnson managed to escape the attack.
During their conversation, Michael Johnson paused and went inside his late parents’ home. He returned holding a pin of an angel and gave it to the officer. It remains on Campbell’s uniform, just another reminder of Aug. 7, 2011.
“I still look back and can’t believe something like that happened in Copley,” Campbell said.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or email@example.com.