July 8, 2011 / 12:04 AM / 6 years ago

Suspect in 7 murders killed ex-girlfriends, his own daughter

<p>A Grand Rapids police car that was both hit and fired upon sits in the corner of Division and Fulton after a high speed chase through downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, July 7, 2011.Ryan M.L. Young/The Grand Rapids Press and mlive.com/grand-rapids</p>

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (Reuters) - A man who killed seven people in a bloody rampage was targeted ex-girlfriends and their families, including his own daughter, police said on Friday.

"I don't think there's any question in my mind this was premeditated," said Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk. "He was hunting these people down."

After the killings, the suspect, Rodrick Shonte Dantzler, engaged in a gun battle with police in downtown Grand Rapids and a high speed chase before taking three people hostage. All three hostages were released safely. Dantzler killed himself with a shot to the head during hostage negotiations with police.

The dead included Jennifer Marie Heeren, 29, an ex-girlfriend of Dantzler; Kamrie Deann Heeren-Dantzler, 12, daughter of Jennifer and Rodrick; Rebecca Lynn Heeren, 52, mother of Jennifer; Thomas Heeren, 51, father of Jennifer, all shot at a house on Brynell Court in Grand Rapids.

Also killed were Kimberlee Ann Emkens, age unknown, an ex-girlfriend of Dantzler; her sister Amanda Renee Emkens, 27; and Marissa Lynn Emkens, 10, daughter of Amanda; all shot in the same house on Plainfield Avenue.

Belk said police were confident that Dantzler was the suspect in all seven murders and had acted alone.

Police were looking for Dantzler Thursday afternoon, but the chase did not begin until a third ex-girlfriend called to say he was pursuing her in his car. Dantzler shot her in the arm while she was in her car, outside of the Grand Rapids police station. Police pursued his fleeing vehicle.

The police manhunt of Dantzler included helicopters, state police and sheriff's deputies. Besides the third ex-girlfriend, another bystander was wounded. The wounds were not life-threatening.

At one point, the suspect drove the wrong way on Interstate 96, ran off the road into a ditch, slammed into a stand of trees, and then fled on foot into a neighborhood in northeast Grand Rapids where he pressed his way into a house and took the hostages, Belk said.

Shots were fired as he entered the house, but the house occupants were not injured, Belk told reporters. He released a 53-year-old woman who lived at the house. But a man and woman remained held and were in a tight confined area at the back of the house during the hostage situation, he said.

<p>Family members react as they learn about three shooting victims inside a home on Plainfield Avenue NE in Grand Rapids, Michigan, July 7, 2011.Chris Clark/The Grand Rapids Press and mlive.com/grand-rapids</p>

Police believe the hostages were strangers to Dantzler.

Mike Shutich, 58, a friend of the Emkens family, described it as "close-knit." Patricia Emkens, the mother of Kimberlee and Amanda Emkens and the grandmother of Marissa, discovered their bodies when she returned home from work, Shutich said.

Kimberlee Emkens had previously lived with Dantzler but had gone back to live with her mother because of physical abuse, Shutich said.

<p>Rodrick Dantzler, 34, a suspect in seven murders in Northeast Grand Rapids, Michigan, is seen in this handout photo released by the Grand Rapids, Michigan Police Department July 7, 2011.Grand Rapids Police Department/Handout</p>

"He was not a very nice man," said Shutich. "He didn't take well to women. He was knocking Kimmy around, which is why she came home. He always had a gun on him. Why I don't know."

Shutich said that Patricia Emkens is "all about her kids."

"Her daughters, her granddaughter were everything to her," Shutich said. "I'm afraid this is going to crush her."

A makeshift memorial was on the Emkens' front porch Friday, with candles and a teddy bear with a note praying that "God be with you in this terrible time of tragedy." The two-story house is part of a modest, working-class neighborhood with well-kept homes.

Mayor George Heartwell described the saga as "a rolling rampage" that included gun battles with police in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids which left a squad car shot up.

Police cordoned off several blocks of the neighborhood surrounding the house where he was barricaded.

Police said Dantzler, who has a criminal record, was using alcohol and cocaine after the killings. It was not known if he was also using them before. The weapon was a 40-caliber semi-automatic pistol. Belk said Dantzler had a large amount of ammunition with him, with more than one magazine.

Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Reporting by Rick Wilson; Editing by Greg McCune

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