Rodrick Shonte Danzler is dead. And so is his 12-year-old daughter and the six other people he killed Thursday.
I didn’t become aware of the massacre or begin to watch the live footage until his five-hour hostage standoff was well underway. Apparently, Dantzler’s killing rampage began in the afternoon and alternated between two Grand Rapids communities, both to which I have strong connections. He shot several victims near the intersection of Fulton and Division, which is three parallel blocks away from my apartment, and the others were slain on Plainfield Avenue, near where I lived with my aunt and uncle for the first two years of my stay here. Their street, which is a serene suburban strip, just off Plainfield was sealed off last night, to ensure that Dantzler could not escape the home where he’d holed up with what was first believed to be two, but wound up as three hostages, when the last was discovered hiding in another room.
This all hit, quite literally, close to home.
I’m no stranger to mass murder and serial killing and gunmen turning their weapons on themselves to end it all. I’m from Baltimore.
Even before Dantzler decided to end his life, I predicted he would. Even before an anonymous extended family member told Wood TV 8 that Dantzler suffered from mental illnesses for which he was not taking medication, I guessed it. That Dantzler knew his victims was also something I thought likely.
But it’s his relationships to those victims that is so unsettling. Two of the women murdered were Dantzler’s ex-girlfriends (another who was shot and injured was a third ex); almost everyone else slain was related to those women. In addition to his adolescent daughter, he also killed the 10-year-old niece of one of those exes.
Investigation has revealed that Dantzler’s long rap sheet is littered with charges of violence and threats against women and relatives. He even allegedly assaulted a pregnant girlfriend in an attempt to kill the unborn child.
Grand Rapids Chief of Police Kevin Belk insists, “It makes no sense to try to rationalize it, what the motives were. You just cannot come up with a logical reason why someone takes seven people’s lives.”
He’s right, of course, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting, if not an explanation of motive, a meaning or–to use a term that makes me cringe–a teachable moment.
It’s been difficult, and it’s still early yet. I’m at a bit of a loss.
This was a man who first became a felon close to twenty years ago. His own mother sought a restraining order against him in the early ’90s, after he set fire to her home. She was one of four women who sought restraining orders against him during that decade.
He was 34. And though neighbors at his current residence described him as friendly, mild-mannered, and “normal,” he woke up yesterday morning with a .40-caliber handgun and “plenty of ammunition,” with the intent to end the lives of his exes and his daughter.
The photograph of Danzler that most often flashed across my television screen Thursday night showed a man rather indistinguishable as crazy. His hair is freshly cut, and his clothing, what little is seen of it, seems average. The eyes usually tell the tale. They are wild or darting or dilated. Danzler’s may be a bit dull, as though he’s been drinking, but they don’t show the worry or fear or anxiety or even rage you’d expect to find in the face of a man who premeditates the murder of seven people.
This was among the most notable of details, for me. Sanity, or its lack, is not easily determined by the naked eye or, at least for these women, by early interaction.
I found my mind wandering through the ruins, wondering what the victims must’ve been thinking.
A part of me already knew–the part that is attracted to eccentrics and “Iceberg Men,” as I like to call them. Iceberg Men are never quite knowable. You get the ten or twenty percent that sits above the water’s surface, but you’re also ever running afoul of the jagged, arctic ridges underneath. You are privy to the beauteous transparent peak, but not the denser, cloudier behemoth waiting below.
At the beginning of one of my relationships, my boyfriend showed me two of his earliest films: the first, for which he won a college scholarship, was about a man sent to prison for killing his unfaithful girlfriend. He starred as the inmate. The second film he showed me was about a man who mistook Philadelphia’s Center City for the rice paddies of Vietnam and began hallucinating himself knifing passersby, like he’d done as a soldier. He starred as the PTSD victim.
I gave him a pretty long side-eye, after those screenings. But eventually, I chalked it up to the eccentricities attendant to artists. I love creatives. We exorcise the baser urges of our ids on paper, celluloid, stages, or dance floors, and when we’re fortunate, those urges are contained to our media. Imagine if he were a horror auteur, I told myself. Imagine if you were dating a Black Stephen King. That, I decided, would’ve been markedly creepier.
Still, I Googled him. I listened when he offered views on gun ownership and channeling anger and the importance of self-defense. I observed how his relatives and friends responded to him. And after that vetting period, I relaxed.
He was a hybrid: eccentric Iceberg. But I was never in harm’s way with him.
I have to wonder if any of Dantzler’s exes similarly vetted Dantzler. I wonder what negotiations their hearts held with their common sense.
Since even he could appear sensible and “friendly” and “mild-mannered,” did they think that their love for him would transcend his past and mellow his future? And once they realized that wasn’t possible, did they fear that this fateful Thursday would come?
The world has never offered much sanctuary for women. And often, our decisions about who to love have repercussions that extend far beyond any we can imagine. Sometimes, running afoul of our Iceberg’s lower half results in far, far more than the bump on the head for which we’ve prepared.
Rodrick Dantzler is dead. He killed people who’d once loved and trusted him. Intimates. Children.
I don’t know if there’s any sense to be gained from violence this senseless.
God rest their souls. God bless your life–and be wise with what’s left of it.