PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — Chilling new details are surfacing on what happened in Tuesday night’s murder-suicide in Portage.
Police identified the victims as 31-year-old Brianna Bates and her 6-year-old daughter, Zenzia. They also confirmed that the husband and father, Henry Bates, was the suspect who then turned the gun on himself.
Melissa Pelikan was Brianna Bates’ good friend who lived in the same duplex off of Milham Avenue. She came home to a massive police response that night and talked to the three children who made it out safely.
“By the time I got back to over here, the police had already barricaded it off,” Pelikan said.
Pelikan, who is also Brianna Bates’ former sister-in-law, added she couldn’t even access her driveway as police responded to the shooting.
Court documents reveal an extensive record of domestic violence. They show that Henry Bates’ criminal history stretches from 2004 to earlier this year. In January and February, Kalamazoo officers said he punched Brianna Bates multiple times and threw his phone at her while they were living together.
Charges in that incident were ultimately dropped.
“She tried to seek help multiple times. She tried to get out of the situation. He always ended up back, this that and the other,” Pelikan said. “I don’t know if they didn’t reach back out to her, or if they weren’t able to help her, or nothing like that. Nobody ever could help.”
Pelikan added that Henry Bates dealt with mental health issues.
“I know that in the past, he had done a rehab center for his mental health,” Pelikan explained. “But as far as other measures to handle it, I don’t know.”
Pelikan said while the two were still on and off, their kids told her it was eerily quiet in the days leading up to the tragedy.
“Before it happened, they weren’t fighting, nothing like that,” Pelikan said. “Everything was calm.”
Pelikan said the three children who escaped the home saw the shooting happen.
“He was calm when he shot her,” Pelikan said. “He just shot her and then stared at the kids until they ran down the stairs.”
The fourth child, 6-year-old Zenzia, was asleep. Her siblings tried to get her out.
“They tried to wake up Zenzia, but she was sleeping. She wouldn’t wake up, so they just ran down the stairs to get help,” Pelikan sighed. “They couldn’t get back upstairs, so that’s how she got left up there.”
Once they surrounded the apartment, police negotiators tried to make contact, but got no response. When officers went inside, they found the three victims dead.
Family, friends and neighbors are struggling to understand why a daughter and her mother were taken from them.
“(Brianna) went above and beyond for her children and the things that she was trying to do to make life better for her children,” Pelikan added. “She came over here to be closer to the family, so that her kids could hang out with (their) cousins.”
The three children — aged 13, 11 and 3 — are safe and staying with family.
“We never thought that (Henry) would … do that. But honestly, you don’t ever think anybody would do that,” Pelikan said.
According to Pelikan, the family is struggling financially with funeral expenses. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help them.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Helpline at 1.800.799.7233.