ELKHART — A shooting at Stratford Commons left three people dead Wednesday morning and sent a fourth person to the hospital.
“It’s tragic,” Elkhart City Police Chief Chris Snyder said with tears in his eyes following an extensive police search of the area. “No community should have to go through this. It’s a horrible day for our community and for law enforcement.”
Snyder said officers received a call just after 9 a.m. regarding a shooting at the assisted living apartment complex at 2601 Oakland Ave.
Initially, the report indicated that one female had been shot in the chest. That woman, who still had not been named, was being treated for serious injuries Wednesday afternoon at Elkhart General Hospital.
SWAT officers then discovered three additional individuals who had been shot and were deceased in one of the apartments.
Elkhart Truth reporting partners at ABC57 were told by Elkhart County Homicide Unit Cmdr. Mark Daggy that the deceased include 66-year-old Gail Shields and her boyfriend, John Malk, along with the suspected shooter, 76-year-old Lawrence Faco.
“I know (Larry) first hand, very well, and pretty much every resident out here,” Shannon Warfield, the complex’s former assistant manager said. Her grandmother also lives at the apartment complex, so she, too, rushed to the property after hearing about the shooting. “He was a really nice guy, not one I would have ever wondered about.”
No other victims were located. Information regarding the circumstances surrounding the shooting were not immediately available. The crime scene spans multiple areas, Snyder said.
“This is a sad day for everybody that has to go through this,” Snyder said.
He commended officers involved for securing the building and reducing the risk, and concerned family members for coming out to support the cause.
Nikita Johnson, of Elkhart, was one of many concerned Elkhart residents who rushed to the complex after seeing police cars in the parking lot.
“My grandmother lives here, so we came to make sure she is OK,” she said. She was one of the first spectators on the scene. “I don’t even know if I parked my car. I just kind of jumped out.”
Her grandmother was unharmed, and several residents said they didn’t even realize anything out-of-the-ordinary was happening until officers began sweeping the facility, or family and friends began calling to check on them, since emergency vehicles visit the facility so often.
More than 100 police, including homicide unit members, detectives, patrol officers and emergency personnel from various agencies came to assist in the city’s search for the suspect within the Stratford Commons building. Snyder said every person who was working for the Elkhart City Police Department on Wednesday was at the scene.
“Everybody that was here today that was able to be here today was here to handle this,” Snyder said. “I heard one officer say he was in Shipshewana and responded to the scene.”
Residents were kept inside the building during the sweep, except for those who requested to be removed, who were permitted to wait on the lawn, beyond the police tape. Along with spectators and concerned family members, several dozen people stood behind the police tape, awaiting results of the search.
“This was a very dynamic scene. We have a housing complex with several hundred people in it, so we’re not only responsible for what is going on and making sure they are safe once we arrive, but conducting a thorough search,” Synder said. “We had to search every apartment in the complex, every storage closet, every kitchen, bathroom, every inch of this building had to be searched by officers.”
“The cooperation and respect that we got from them was amazing. If I had a family member in (that building) I don’t know how I would react, but the fact that they listened to what we asked them to do, and that we were able to communicate with them, it made our job a lot easier today,” Snyder said.
Mayor Tim Neese called the shooting “a tragedy that should have been avoided.”
“While we may not know what prompted this incident, we can say that violence is never the answer,” the mayor said. “This behavior devastates families, and takes a toll on any community.”
“It also weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of our first responders,” he said. “I want to commend the Elkhart Police Department for their swift and professional response. They dedicated the entire day shift to securing the perimeter and searching the complex to ensure the safety and security of residents and the surrounding area. I also want to commend the Elkhart Fire Department and the staff at Elkhart General Hospital for providing critical medical attention.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Stratford Commons main lobby remained off limits because it is one of the crime scenes. Residents were being asked to use their designated key fob or to gain entry through a friend or family member with a key fob.