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Ohio rampage suspect bought gun from pawn shop

AKRON, Ohio - A northeast Ohio pawn shop says it sold a handgun last week to a man who authorities say shot and killed seven people before dying in a shootout with police.

Owner Tom Sydmor of Sydmor's Jewelry in Barberton tells the Akron Beacon Journal nothing seemed unusual about 51-year-old Michael Hance when he came into the store five days before Sunday's rampage. The newspaper reports that since Hance had no criminal record, he easily cleared a federal background check and took immediate possession of a .45-caliber weapon.

Police say federal authorities have been tracing two handguns linked to Hance.

Neighbors in the Akron suburb where the shootings occurred say the violence stemmed from a dispute over the home where Hance lived with his longtime girlfriend, Becky Dieter, who was shot but survived. The home had belonged to Dieter's deceased parents.

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On Tuesday, police identified the shooting spree's final victim.

Amelia Shambaugh, 16, was visiting a friend and sitting in a parked car when they were both killed Sunday morning, Copley Township Police Chief Michael Mier said.

Mier said he still doesn't know why Hance, who had no previous criminal record before the outburst, did it.

"We've heard a variety of opinions," Mier said. "That's something we're trying to sort through and determine."

Hance often read textbooks on diseases and medical procedures and tried to get others interested, neighbor Carol Eshleman said. He also made and drank odd health concoctions and claimed he didn't have to work because he was an inventor, she said.

He seemed constantly under stress, trying to deal with possessions of relatives who had recently died, said Eshleman, a 64-year-old driver for public school special education students.

"Mike was strange," she said, but "I wouldn't think he'd go to this extreme."

On Tuesday, red, blue and purple ribbons adorned trees in the center of the township outside of Akron and also outside the high school, honoring the victims, police officers and fire rescuers.

Copley-Fairlawn schools made counselors and psychologists available to anyone in the community. The high school, with about 1,100 students, is struggling for answers, Superintendent Brian Poe said.

"This is very, very difficult to work through because of the severity of the tragedy, because you lose seven people at once, and the manner in which it was done, in which the victims were hunted down," said Poe, who is finishing his first year as superintendent.

"When you lose a child or a friend or a community member in a car accident, that in itself is very tragic," he said. "When seven people's lives are taken, it really multiples the severity, and that's been difficult for us to comprehend."

Poe declined to release details about Shambaugh and the other student killed, Autumn Johnson, also 16, but said both would be deeply missed.

A former police officer credited with helping stop Hance described feeling terrified but said he reacted the way he was trained.

"It just comes down to part of my DNA," Michael Lavery said in an interview Monday with WKYC-TV of Cleveland.

He lives in the suburban Akron neighborhood where police said Hance stalked and gunned down people, including an 11-year-old boy. The rampage ended in a shootout with Lavery and police in which Hance was killed.

Lavery said the rest of his family went to church Sunday morning, but he stayed home with a son who was sick.

When the gunfire erupted, Lavery said he told the boy, "Hit the ground, stay on the ground. Keep your head down, lay down by the couch and don't you leave this house." Lavery then ran outside.

"I feel terrible for everybody involved," Lavery said. "I feel terrible for the shooter himself. I feel terrible for his family members."

Hance had recently grown angry over residents' comments about the property where he lived with Dieter, said Eshleman, the neighbor. About a month ago, Hance's next-door neighbor Gudrun "Gerdie" Johnson had asked Hance to clean up the property, which included a broken-down car on blocks.

Johnson related the encounter to Eshleman, explaining that she'd never seen Hance so upset. "He said, 'Get off my property and don't come back,'" Eshleman said.

The dispute apparently dated to the deaths of Becky Dieter's parents a couple of years ago, said Eshleman, who was a caregiver for the Dieters. Becky Dieter's brother, Craig, wanted the house sold, but instead Hance and Becky Dieter, 49, moved in, Eshleman said.

Another neighbor, Gilbert Elie, said one of the Johnsons had complained about the property to a neighborhood councilwoman. Messages seeking comment from Copley Township Trustee Helen Humphrys, who lives nearby, were not returned Monday, and it was not clear if there was ever a formal complaint.

Johnson, 64, was killed in the attack, along with her husband, 67-year-old Russell Johnson; their 44-year-old son Bryan Johnson and his daughter Autumn; Craig Dieter, of Walton, Ky., and his 11-year-old son, Scott; and Amelia Shambaugh, slain while in a parked car outside the Johnsons' home.

Hance cornered the 11-year-old in the basement of a house, ordered out the family sheltering the boy and then shot him, police said.