- Associated Press - Monday, August 8, 2011

COPLEY, Ohio (AP) — Investigators worked Monday to unravel the motive behind a shooting rampage that killed seven people and wounded another in a small Ohio town before the gunman died in a gunfight with police.

Police combed through three homes and searched outside a fourth in a wooded, residential area outside Akron on Sunday, collecting evidence as they tried to piece together what happened during the shootings, which shook a quiet neighborhood.

Authorities did not release the condition of the survivor who was hospitalized, and they were withholding the names and ages of those involved until officers could tell victims’ family members, some of whom were out of state, Copley policeSgt. Eric Goodwin said. Autopsies began Monday.

The rampage began before 11 a.m. when, police said, the gunman shot his girlfriend in one home, then ran to a next-door neighbor’s house, where he shot her brother and gunned down four neighbors. He then chased four people — two through neighboring backyards — shooting one of them before bursting into a house on a nearby road, where two others had sought refuge.

Police said he shot his eighth victim in that house and left, only to get into a gunfight outside with a police officer and a private citizen who had been a police officer. The gunman, whose name was not released, was killed.

Neighbors said that the dead included an 11-year-old boy and that at least three victims were from one family. A school official said he was told two victims were students at the local high school.

Gilbert Elie, who has lived in the neighborhood for 11 years, heard the gunshots and cries for help as he got ready for church. In an account that differed slightly from the police version, Mr. Elie said he went to a house across the street and found the woman who lived there lying in the driveway, her husband shot near the garage and their granddaughter and another woman shot in the front seat of a vehicle, the windows apparently blown out by gunfire.

A third woman came out of the house next door and tried to talk to Mr. Elie, he said, but their brief exchange ended abruptly when a man followed her out of the house and shot her, sending the 76-year-old Mr. Elie running for safety behind a truck.

“She was talking to me, and he come up behind her and shot her, so I figured, maybe I’m next,” he told the Associated Press.

He hid until he could see the gunman was gone, then returned home. Police arrived, and Mr. Elie said he heard a second round of shots coming from behind the houses and assumed officers had killed the gunman.

Mr. Elie said his neighbors, Russ and Gerdie Johnson, lived across the street. He said the ordeal has left residents of their well-kept neighborhood shaken and wondering what prompted the shootings.

“They’re all in shock,” Mr. Elie said.

Public records show that a Russell Johnson, 67, and his wife, Gudrun, 64, live on the road where the shootings occurred.

Mr. Elie described the gunman as generally unfriendly, a rarity on the street, and said he often worked on his car outside his house but never waved at anyone.

Police, who did not release information about the shooter’s motive, planned a news conference Monday.

The Akron Beacon Journal reported that Copley-Fairlawn School Superintendent Brian Poe said he was told by a township trustee that two Copley High School students were killed and that a third youth, the 11-year-old, also was killed. Mr. Poe said the trustee told him the 11-year-old was not a Copley student.

Some of the victims are from out of state, Sgt. Goodwin said.

“A person running through the neighborhood and firing a gun” prompted calls to police, the Copley Police Department said in a news release late Sunday.

Brian and Diane Cross said they were riding on a motorcycle Sunday morning when they heard a loud bang and saw a man with a gun chasing another man. Mr. Cross, 53, said they drove a half mile to a service station to call 911, but “Copley police was already on it, and they were flying by us.”

The neighborhood was blocked off by police Sunday.

Around sunset, about 200 people assembled at a park for an impromptu candlelight vigil for the shooting victims in their town and crime victims elsewhere. Some residents said they set up a memorial fund.

Some saw a double rainbow, including Kelly Kerr Gill, who was one of more than 100 people who posted condolences on a special Facebook page set up for one of the families that apparently lost several members. “Your double rainbow sent from heaven did not go un-noticed … was truly a sign from God that those taken are ok,” she wrote.

The Rev. Jeff Bogue of the Grace Church of Greater Akron prayed with those gathered at the vigil about faith in the wake of violence.

“This is troubling, Lord, why such evil would come to our little township,” he said.

Copley Township is west of Akron and about 40 miles south of Cleveland.

Kantele Franko reported from Columbus, Ohio. Associated Press writer JoAnne Viviano in Columbus contributed to this report.

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