KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Vickie Kopf didn’t realize just how stressed she was about Jason Dalton’s trial until she learned there would not be one.
“My knees buckled. I almost fell,” Kopf said of the moment she heard that the man who shot her daughter in the head would plead guilty.
“You don’t understand the relief I feel,” she continued. “It is great to stand here and look at my daughter and know she can go to sleep tonight knowing there’s no way he can get to her. Because that’s what she’s been afraid of. She’s been through three years of hell.”
The family planned to go out to dinner Monday night to celebrate the guilty plea.
They had chosen to stay away from the court proceedings, so Vickie Kopf was on her way to the kitchen to make coffee Monday morning when the breaking news on television stopped her in her tracks.
Dalton pleaded guilty to all 16 counts against him, putting a halt to jury selection and ending his trial before it began. He will be sentenced in February to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Do you know how great that is?” Kopf said, referring to Dalton’s decision. “Justice has been served. Finally.”
Abbie Kopf was the only survivor of the shooting that killed four people in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant on Feb. 20, 2016. Among the dead was Barbara Hawthorne, a family friend so close that the Kopfs called her Grandma Barb. Abbie had attended a play that night with Hawthorne and three other women, all of whom were shot to death.
“Barb has now got closure,” Kopf said.
Two other people, father and son Rich and Tyler Smith, had been killed by Dalton earlier in the day. Also seriously wounded was Tiana Carruthers, though she survived.
Kopf thought Dalton had a smirk on his face as the victims’ names were read in court.
“That made my blood boil,” she said.
“He realized he has no place to go. He has no other excuses,” she said of his decision to plead guilty.
“He knew what he was doing. He went out that night and he murdered all those people.”
She doesn’t’t think the guilty plea has sunk in yet for Abbie, who she described as “emotional” about it.
Abbie nearly died in the shooting. Now 17, she still suffers from daily headaches and periodic seizures linked to her head wound.
“She is doing as well as can be expected,” her mother said.