KALAMAZOO, Michigan — It was early Sunday in Kalamazoo, and eight people had been shot in three incidents, six of whom now lay dead.
Sgt. James Harrison was on the hunt for the man behind the worst mass shooting in the United States since San Bernardino.
But details were scarce. Police said they were looking for a suspect they believed to be a white male driving a dark-colored Chevy HHR.
Harrison was parked at a stoplight just a few miles from the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department when he saw a vehicle matching that description moving slowly through the parking lot of the Up & Under sports bar.
At first, he thought it might be another false alarm.
“That wasn’t the first dark-colored HHR that had been stopped that night,” he said.
He let the vehicle pull out in front of him and called in the license plate information. The deputy followed for several minutes, not wanting to make the traffic stop until more officers arrived, in case this was their suspect.
The driver didn’t speed up and continued normally with the police car close behind him.
When backup arrived, Harrison turned on his flashing lights to make the stop.
The driver continued for a short distance before pulling over.
“When he didn’t stop right away, it kind of brought my suspicions up a little bit, but still, at the time, we didn’t have a positive identification of who the suspect was,” Harrison said.
Harrison said he and the other officers approached cautiously, treating it as a high-risk stop.
They repeatedly ordered the driver to put his hands outside the window, but he wouldn’t.
The officers could see his hands inside the vehicle, so they continued to move closer.
When Harrison opened the door and asked the driver to get out, he reached back like he was going for his seat belt, Harrison said. Harrison told him not to move his hands and helped the suspect out of the car.
Harrison patted the driver down, as other officers held his arms, and found what appeared to be a handgun in his pocket.
“When I felt that object, my main focus was to, No. 1, make sure that I had that arm secured so he could not reach for [the gun], and No. 2, to announce to my other teammate ‘Gun, gun, gun,’ so they knew there was a weapon and make sure they hold on to that person so we can get them detained.”
Soon after they had him inside the patrol car, he was positively identified as the suspect in the shootings.
Jason Brian Dalton, 45, has been charged with six counts of murder in the nearly five-hour rampage. According to detectives, Dalton told them he “took people’s lives.”
Once in custody, Harrison said he and the other arresting officers had a sense of “overwhelming relief” that they had stopped the man from furthering his alleged killing spree.
Throughout the traffic stop, the driver never said a word and didn’t put up a struggle.
“It was kind of a shock. … We were quite surprised that it went the way that it did,” Harrison said, noting “usually it does not come out that way.”
Looking back on it, Harrison said he wishes something could have been done sooner, but he praised the efforts of the community and the officers involved in the manhunt and subsequent arrest.
“Whenever a big call like this comes in, everyone works together to accomplish it, which is something you don’t see in a lot of places.”
He has since learned that other officers had stopped at the Up & Under in their search for the suspect just minutes before he glanced over.
“It was just by happenstance and God’s grace as I came up to that stoplight that I happened to look over and see the vehicle matching the description.”