4 years after shooting spree, no home for memorial park

Kalamazoo Shooting Spree
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Top, L-R: Judy Brown, Barbara Hawthorne and Mary Jo Nye. Bottom, L-R: Mary Lou Nye, Rich Smith and Tyler Smith.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Four years after a man murdered six people at random in the Kalamazoo area, the wife and mother of two of the victims continues to look for a place to build a memorial.

The ForeverStrong Memorial Foundation has envisioned a massive, multimillion-dollar park with indoor and outdoor soccer fields, walking paths, concrete panels paying tribute to the victims, a playground and picnic area, and a memorial pavilion.

Laurie Smith, who heads up ForeverStrong, said the organization is still waiting for the right location to become available and is still working to raise the cash to buy land.

“For right now, I want to make sure that we aren’t just waiting to build the memorial because ForeverStrong is about giving back and bringing the community together and we can do that without a site,” Smith said.

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A rendering of the proposed memorial park honoring the victims of the 2016 Kalamazoo shooting spree. (Courtesy)

Over the course of about five hours on Feb. 20, 2016, Jason Dalton opened fire at three locations in and around Kalamazoo. Eight people were shot. Father and son Rich and Tyler Smith, Judy Brown, Barbara Hawthorne, Mary Jo Nye and Mary Lou Nye were killed. Tiana Carruthers and Abigail Kopf, then only 14, were seriously injured but survived.

“For me, personally, it seems like forever that I heard my husband and son’s voice. But then it seems yesterday,” Laurie Smith said of the deaths of Rich and Tyler Smith. 

Dalton, of Cooper Township north of Kalamazoo, was arrested a few hours after the final shooting. In January 2019, he stopped jury selection in his trial by pleading guilty to six counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and eight weapons charges. According to recordings of phone calls he made from jail, he did it to avoid media coverage of the trial. He was sentenced in February 2019 to spend the rest of his life in prison.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Kalamazoo shooting spree

“It has been a heartbreaking and difficult four years since the night of the Kalamazoo shootings,” Laurie Smith said in a Thursday statement. “We are still shattered by this tragedy and the loss of six beautiful lives. But we also continue to be inspired by the outpouring of love and support and our mission to honor our loved ones by giving back and strengthening resiliency within the community.”

The group has raised approximately $10,000 for the project so far. Initial design plans have an outdoor memorial with a walkway that honors each of the victims and survivors, and a clear building at the end to represent a celebration of life.

Laurie Smith said while the memorial is still in limbo, ForeverStrong does have events planned for 2020:

  • Aug. 7, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.: Fourth annual ForeverStrong Sunshine FUNFest at Revel and Roll West in Kalamazoo. Soccer tournament.
  • Aug. 8 and 9: Sunshine soccer tournament in honor of Tyler Smith hosted by Dan Bulley Soccer School.
  • October or November at The Wine Loft: ForeverStrong Gala to honor the victims of a June 2016 crash that killed five bicyclists near Kalamazoo. The event benefits ForeverStrong and the Open Roads Program.

“Thank you for all of your love and support these past four years,” Laurie Smith said. “It means more than you will ever know.”

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