KIRKERSVILLE, OH (WCMH/AP) — An armed man gunned down a new village police chief on a street and then killed two employees in a nearby nursing home, where he later was found dead, a sheriff said. No nursing home residents were injured.
The slain police chief, Steven Eric DiSario, had headed the Kirkersville Police Department for only about three weeks, Licking County Sheriff Randy Thorp said. DiSario was shot on a street near the Pine Kirk Care Center, and the two employees and the gunman were found dead inside, Thorp said.
Family members identified Thomas Hartless, 43, as the shooter. His cousin, who did not want to go on camera, told NBC4’s Shawn Lanier that Hartless did not live in Kirkersville. His girlfriend worked at the nursing home where the shooting happened.
DiSario, 38, was a father of six children, with a seventh on the way, the sheriff said. Services will be held at Schoedinger Funeral Home on East State Street, where DiSario’s body was taken Saturday.
Thorp called it a hard day for all.
“We’ve lost a police officer. It’s just a tragic event,” he said. “I guess the only peace of mind is that the threat is over.”
Officials identified nurse Marlina Medrano and nurse aide Cindy Krantz as the deceased.
NBC4’s Courtney Yuen confirmed Medrano was Hartless’ girlfriend.
By early afternoon, flowers and flags appeared in an impromptu memorial outside the village police hall.
DiSario was responding to a report of a man with a gun, and his last radio communication said he had the man in sight, Thorp said.
Responding officers found DiSario on the street and then investigated a report of a gunman at the nursing home, Thorp said.
Some nursing home residents barricaded themselves during the shooting, but none of them was injured, he said.
Police weren’t immediately able to identify the gunman and were trying to determine what, if any, relationship he had with the nursing home, Thorp said.
The shooting closed down the main street in the village, which was flooded with police officers from several surrounding agencies and with ambulances. The village of about 500 residents is roughly 25 miles east of Columbus.
Kirkersville mayor Terry Ashcraft released a statement Saturday morning:
“Acting Chief DiSario was with The Village of Kirkersville for a very short period of time. We are deeply saddened by the tragedy that has unfolded resulting in the death of Acting Chief DiSario while protecting the citizens of our Village. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and the families of all victims of this senseless tragedy. We would like to thank all of the law enforcement agencies, and other local government offices and officials for their assistance and support.
Kasich orders flags flown at half-staff
In response to the news, Ohio Governor John Kasich ordered that all flags be flown at half-staff upon all public buildings and grounds throughout Licking County and at the Ohio Statehouse. The order goes into effect immediately through sunset on May 16, 2017.
Kasich’s order reads: “In honor of the lives lost in the senseless acts of violence perpetrated on May 12, 2017 in Kirkersville, Ohio, I hereby proclaim, by the authority vested in me as Governor of the State of Ohio by the Ohio Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, that the flags of the United States of America and the State of Ohio shall be flown at half-staff upon all public buildings and grounds throughout Licking County and at the Ohio Statehouse effective immediately through sunset on May 16, 2017.”
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Local schools on lock down
Kirkersville Elementary School was on lock down while police investigate.
“It was scary because I just put my kid on the bus and I didn’t know where he was going,” one parent told NBC4. “They didn’t call us till like 15-20 minutes later.”
“Any time, even if it’s not your school, just for it to be so close, you know, they have to be pretty vague on what it is, just let you know that everything is locked down, so, uh, that was a little alarming because all schools are locked down, so you’re not really sure what’s going on,” another parent told NBC4.
Response from local police agencies
Thorp shared his own thoughts Saturday afternoon. “Yesterday Hell paid us a visit,” he began.
Many police agencies in central Ohio Tweeted their condolences to the fallen police chief.
“Our thoughts & many prayers go out to the #Kirkersville Police Dept & the Kirkersville community. We will assist in any way we can,” Columbus Police said on Twitter.
“Very terrible situation this morning in Central Ohio..Prayers for a fallen Brother,” said Franklin County’s Chief Gilbert.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of fallen Kirkersville Police Officer, the department, the dispatchers and the entire community,” Tweeted Delaware County’s 911.
“Our thoughts are with the Kirkersville Police Dept, community, and Ohio Law Enforcement during this tragic time,” said Upper Arlington police.
Response from state and local officials
Several state officials reacted to the news of the shooting in Kirkersville on Twitter.
Gov. Kasich has ordered flags at half-staff to honor those killed in Kirkersville.
“Shocked & pained by the horrific shooting in Kirkersville,” Ohio Governor John Kasich said on Twitter. “Ask for prayers for those injured. Grateful for law enforcement’s quick response.”
“Heartbreaking news. Grateful to law enforcement who responded to the scene. Thinking of the officer, officer’s family & all involved,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D) on Twitter.
“My office and I stand ready to help our officers and all those affected in Kirkersville in any way possible,” said Senator Rob Portman (R) on Twitter.
The Licking County Commissioners also released a statement: “The Licking County Commissioners and our families, Elected Officials and the staff of Licking County Government extend heartfelt condolences to the families in today’s tragic shootings in the Village of Kirkersville.
“We mourn the death of Kirkersville Police Chief Steven Eric Disario, and join in prayers and support for his wife and young family. Today we are reminded of the risks first responders face each day.
“Chief Disario will be remembered for his bravery and making the ultimate sacrifice in an effort to save lives and protect his community.
“We are praying for all the victims of this senseless act. Nurse Marlins Medrano and Aide Cindy Krantz of the Pine Kirk Care Center were also murder victims. We hold these victims and their families in our hearts and prayers.
“At Licking County Government we have confidence in the work of the Licking County Sheriff, his staff and other law enforcement agencies; and stand ready to assist them as needed. — Licking County Commissioners Tim Bubb, Duane Flowers and Rick Black.”
About the nursing home
The Pine Kirk Care Center is located on East Main Street. According to the Ohio Department of Health, the facility holds 24 beds, which are certified for both Medicare and Medicaid.
The owner of the facility is listed as Living Care Alternatives of Kirkersville, Inc. As of May 3, 2017, there were 23 residents at the facility.
This facility also houses elderly sex offenders. These are individuals who molested juveniles, were incarcerated, and are no longer mentally or physically able to care for themselves.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.