COPLEY TWP.: Many residents who lived through a 10-minute shooting spree that claimed eight lives in their otherwise quiet neighborhood a year ago have not been able to forget what happened.
Most refused to talk about the shootings, shooing away reporters or saying they still are trying to recover. Those who did talk said things will never be the same.
“The neighborhood is quieter now, much quieter,” said Tris Ulrich, who lives on Schocalog Road. “It’s just a different neighborhood. It’s definitely changed. It seemed like people were out[side] all the time before.”
The only person in sight this day was a man on a tractor cutting his lawn. After a few minutes, only the faint sound of the mower could be heard as he disappeared to his backyard.
“We’ve had people move out the neighborhood since then,” said her husband, Bob Ulrich. “It’s not quite the same.”
A “Copley Stands Strong Together” sign — the only one left in the neighborhood — remains in the front yard of the home of Russell and Gudrun Johnson on Goodenough Avenue. A flag still flies on their adjacent property.
Next door to the Johnsons lived the killer, Michael Hance, with his girlfriend, Rebecca Dieter, who survived her gunshot wounds. Her brother and her nephew were shot to death.
Neighbors say the Dieter family home is being rented. The tenant declined to talk and politely asked the reporter to leave the property.
The home on Schocalog Road where 11-year-old Scott Dieter was fatally shot — and where police killed Hance outside moments later — sits vacant.
New neighbors live next door and across the street.
“This neighborhood will never be the same,” said 77-year-old Gilbert Elie, who still lives across the street from the Johnson home on Good-enough. He was the first neighbor to reach the victims, trying to help them.
“It can’t be the same, because so many people are gone,” he said.
Many called the Johnsons the anchors of the neighborhood.
“They were the ones who held the neighborhood together,” said Nancy Elie, Gilbert’s wife. “If a car got stuck nearby, Russ and his sons were the ones to help push it. They talked to everyone. People just aren’t as friendly now.”
Gilbert Elie said that on the day of the shootings, he heard what he thought were firecrackers and went outside to check.
“I heard someone say, ‘Help,’ and jumped over the hedges and saw Gertie in the driveway. She called my name, but it was the last word she said. I saw Russ in the driveway. He was dead. I saw Autumn and her friend holding each other. I thought they were frightened and just comforting each other, trying to hide, but when I called Autumn’s name and touched her, she was dead, too. They weren’t breathing and they weren’t moving.”
Another body was in the driveway, that of Craig Dieter.
He saw a woman come out on the porch. It was Becky Dieter. He asked whether she had called 911.
“As soon as she opened her mouth and said, ‘What?’ she was shot. She fell down the steps and I jumped behind a vehicle in the driveway. I thought she was dead, too. She fell head first.
“If Hance had missed her, I would have been shot. I came home running, hit the front door and fell on the living room floor. My shadow was still over there looking for me.”
Nancy Elie said Gilbert told her to call 911, that the noise they had heard wasn’t firecrackers but gunshots.
“He said, ‘They’re dead.’ I asked who, and he said, ‘They’re all dead. There are bodies everywhere,’ ” she said.
“I have never been that close to death in my life,” he said. “I know he meant to kill her [Rebecca Dieter] because he shot her so many times.”
When police and paramedics arrived, Elie went out and saw Rebecca Dieter wave her hand, so he let them know she was the only one still alive.
In disbelief, he watched more and more police cars swarm the area.
Great neighbors lost
The Ulrichs, who live on Schocalog Road, said they did not know until later that day the family gunned down was the Johnsons. They had seen the couple earlier.
“That morning, we walked our dogs and talked to Russ,” said Tris Ulrich. “He was telling us about his plans for the day. He was the one guy we would see every morning. He was a morning person.”
They said Russ Johnson was going out to the park to clean up the trails. There had been a storm and he was going to help remove branches on the trail. He was a hiker.
Tris Ulrich said their dog jumped on Johnson with his paws all over him and was kissing him.
“So that’s my last memory of Russ,” she said. “It was a good memory.”
They said the Johnsons were great neighbors.
“It was quite sad because we knew them,” Bob said.
Tris Ulrich said she came outside when she heard the gunshots, but her next-door neighbor, Keith Lavery, a former Copley police officer, was outside with his gun and told her to get back inside the house.
“He was the one who helped chase [Hance] down,” she said. “In fact, I ended up watching his little boy while he helped with the crime scene. I had him on the couch with the blinds closed and the television blasting to drown out all the commotion outside. I was trying to shield him. It was not my place to explain things to him.”
The Ulrichs said they walked their dogs the next day, hoping to bring back some normalcy.
“We were hoping things would get back to normal as soon as possible, but it has been quiet the whole time,” Bob Ulrich said.
His wife chimed in, “But I think we are closer to the people who are still here.”
She credits the Victim Assistance Program for helping neighbors talk about the shootings.
Others, however, prefer to avoid the topic.
“We just don’t talk about it. That’s it. We really try not to talk about it,” said 21-year-old Courtney Musser. who lives next door to the shooting site on Schocalog Road. “We were very close to the Johnsons and had no idea they were the victims. We went to school with Autumn. She was the best friend of my boyfriend’s sister.”
Musser said that because of the incident they are ready to leave the neighborhood.
“I would have never expected anything like that. I’ve lived in Copley my entire life,” she said. “We still want to live in Copley, because we have a lot of family here, but we don’t want to specifically stay in this house anymore. There are too many bad memories, so we are trying to go as soon as possible.”
Other signs around the community express support for the victims. A memorial garden grows at Copley Community Park. A memorial bench on the township circle includes the engraved names and photos of the victims with the inscription: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
Neighbors say things will never be the same and they will need time to heal.
“To be honest, I think about it every day. Every time I pass the Johnsons’ house, I salute the flag,” Bob Ulrich said. “They are gone, but not forgotten.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.