Becky Dieter had just finished drying her hair in a second-floor bathroom when she heard three pops followed by a child’s scream.
It was about 10:45 a.m. Aug. 7, 2011, a Sunday.
She walked downstairs in her Copley Township home to investigate. She yelled, “Hello?”
No one responded.
Her nephew, 11-year-old Scott Dieter, then opened the door to a closet where he was hiding.
“Aunt Becky, Mike Hance is shooting people!” he told her.
Michael Hance, 51, Dieter’s boyfriend of 22 years, fatally shot seven people and wounded her before he was shot and killed by Copley police that day.
In her first interview with the media since the rampage, Dieter, 50, spoke with the Beacon Journal last week in the office of her clinical psychologist, Dr. Christina Kraft, of Summa Health System’s Department of Psychiatry and the Summa Akron City Hospital Trauma Services.
In a soft and thoughtful voice over 75 minutes, Dieter described what she remembers about the shootings and how she is recovering — both physically and psychologically.
She grabbed her land-line telephone and walked out to her porch after hearing what Scott Dieter — who would be killed — had said.
“I’m on the phone with the police,” Dieter recalled. “I kept saying, ‘He’s here!’?”
She believes that Hance ran into the house and up the stairs, thinking she was still in the shower and looking to kill her.
Then, she said, Hance came running out the door and saw her.
“He said, ‘Becky?’ — like a question, like, ‘Oh, my God, she got away,’?’’?she said.
Hance ran across the porch toward her, closing to within 3 feet.
“I looked at him, and I looked down, and he had a gun pointed at me,” she said.
“I dropped the phone at that time, and I obviously turned. He was pointing [the gun] at my chest, and he hit me in the back.”
She said she remembers immediate pain and “everything going very slowly and not having any control over my body, like I was flying off the porch.”
She caught a glimpse of Hance’s face and “it was completely emotionless.”
A single hollow-point bullet had entered her back, hit the edge of her spinal column — without causing permanent spinal cord damage — and deflected through her left lung. It exited through her left shoulder, shattering bone.
Dieter landed on the driveway on her left side, the side where she was wounded.
“I did realize I was still alive, and I saw his feet,” she said.
Dieter closed her eyes, “so he sort of would think I was dead.”
She lay on her back and was having great difficulty breathing because she had two collapsed lungs — one struck by the bullet and the other punctured by a rib fractured in her fall.
She rolled over and tried to hold herself up as breathing got increasingly difficult.
“I remember thinking, ‘If someone doesn’t come quickly, I will die,’?” she said.
Copley Township Fire Department personnel arrived and began treating her.
“They saved my life,” she said.
Dieter has undergone three operations since the shooting: the first to try to repair her shoulder a few days after the shooting; the second, in November, to replace the joint with an artificial shoulder; and the third, in late July, on her left lung because of continuing breathing difficulties.
She has suffered pneumonia and respiratory failure during the yearlong ordeal. Recently, she has been using portable oxygen to help her breathe but hopes to be off it shortly.
She has limited mobility on her left and is not able to lift her arm much because her rotator cuff was destroyed in the shooting.
An employee of a federal agency, Dieter has been unable to go back to work yet but hopes to resume soon.
Out of character
Dieter said the actions of Hance that day were totally out of character. There was nothing in his behavior that indicated he was planning such an attack.
She called it “completely unfathomable” that the person she spent 22 years with “would have or could actually do something like that. Never once in our time together did I ever fear him.”
She believes that for some unknown reason, he decided to kill everyone in her immediate and extended family.
That day, the Dieters were planning to go to a family reunion in Pennsylvania.
She understands that Hance had packed her car with weapons and survival equipment. When it was decided the group would travel to Pennsylvania in her brother Craig’s car, Hance decided to shoot everyone before they could leave for the reunion.
She said she is glad police killed Hance “because he obviously lost his mind.”
Christina Kraft began working with Dieter when she was admitted to Summa Akron City Hospital after the shooting. They continue to meet twice a week.
Kraft, a psychologist, said she has been treating Dieter for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“A year after, truth be told, she is doing much better than I ever imagined,” Kraft said.
But it will be an ongoing process to help Dieter work through issues related to the shootings, she said.
“With PTSD, what I say is ‘memories control the patient.’ And while we are never able to take the memories away, the goal of treatment of PTSD is for any patient with PTSD to control the memories,” she said. “Right now, there are quite a few memories that are controlling Becky.”
Dieter questions self
Dieter said she often thinks that if she had done something — anything — differently, perhaps she could have stopped Hance.
Kraft reassures her constantly that there was nothing she could have done to change things.
“Absolutely, under no circumstance, did you do anything that led to what happened,” Kraft said to Dieter during the interview.
“Right,” Dieter replied. “He lost his mind.”
Kraft said part of PTSD is “re-experiencing it over and over again — the guilt, the anxiety, the avoidance.”
Dieter has been journaling and recently started taking a self-defense class as part of her therapy.
She said she had been numb for much of the first year but has begun to feel the deep pain associated with such an incident and the loss of so many family members and friends.
“We lost many great people that day,” she said. “The loss is almost exponential in that all of these people were good, special people.”
Dieter said there were no issues within the family over the estate of her parents, as had been reported at the time of the shootings.
Her mother, Helen Dieter, had died in 2008, and her father, Wayne Dieter, died the next year. Becky said both of her siblings wanted her to remain in the family house, where she had lived since the age of 8.
She had started grief counseling over the loss of her parents in 2011. She said she was grateful her parents were gone when the shootings happened.
“It is such a horrible tragedy, and I believe they were in heaven greeting everyone we lost that day,” she said.
Dieter said she is ever thankful to her sister and brother-in-law, with whom she lives in Northeast Ohio. They have helped and supported her throughout the ordeal.
Thankful for help
She is thankful, as well, to the medical teams at Summa and at Crystal Clinic Orthopaedic Center, to the Copley police and fire departments, the Victim Assistance Program and the community for their support.
She met with Copley police officer Ben Campbell to thank him during the year. Campbell is the officer who shot Hance.
In March, just before what would have been Scott and Craig Dieter’s birthdays, she and Kraft visited a memorial bench on Copley Circle, where they placed balloons and cards and read prayers and poems.
“I want to thank everyone who has been praying for us, sending us positive energy and good karma,” she said. “I believe that is why I am here today and that I continue to pray for all of the families affected and I hope others will continue to do so.”
The losses that occurred a year ago affected the entire region, she said.
“They were leaders in their communities, [with the] Boy Scouts and their churches,” she said. “It affected anyone who is from around the area because this tragedy happened here, which means it could happen to anyone, anywhere.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.