FORT WAYNE – Thursday morning on Fort Wayne’s north side, in a quiet neighborhood called Wheatridge, just off Cook Road.
People are taking advantage of the weather. They’re out on bicycles, landscaping, walking dogs. Some are propping up tables and folding clothes. It’s a garage sale weekend, and they’re getting their goods ready for show.
This is a place where the dramatic rarely happens.
But at a home on Weymouth Court a young man is showing signs of becoming mentally unstable, and his parents decide to call police. It’s the second time they’ve done so in the past six months.
Within minutes of that call, this neighborhood will go from peaceful to deadly. The young man will be wielding a semiautomatic pistol, and there will be a barrage of what sounds like 30 or 40 firecrackers going off one after the other.
There will be officers running for cover, trying to avoid not only the shots from that young man’s gun but also the vehicle he uses to try to run them over.
And shortly thereafter, some residents will see the young man die, surrounded by police officers in a driveway who fire their own guns at him after he refuses to surrender his.
This nondescript neighborhood was the scene of what will likely be Fort Wayne’s 17th homicide of the year, the fourth at the hands of city police.
The victim: a young man who, like others before him, refused to drop his weapon. This is occurring with increasing frequency throughout the country, Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York will say later. This is one of the problems we are facing.
Access to a gun
The initial 911 call came at 8:22 a.m.
Police were asked to come to 7723 Weymouth Court, a two-story home where a 22-year-old man began exhibiting what York called psychotic behavior.
The man’s parents, who own the home, told dispatchers their son was speaking incoherently and acting bizarre. He may have been smoking marijuana or using some other mind- or mood-altering drug, they said.
And he had access to a handgun.
Police knew the home. Officers had been called there this past October in reference to a shooting. It had been a suicide attempt that the man survived.
Dispatchers were told the man was suicidal again, and that he was inside his bedroom on the second story.
I’ve listened to the conversations, and you have to give a lot of credit to our dispatchers, York said.
They were integral in keeping the mother on the phone and getting accurate information about what his behavior was like.
Four police units showed because of the nature of the call and met the parents outside. One officer who responded is a member of the department’s Crisis Intervention Team, which specializes in dealing with people who might be suffering from mental illness or duress.
That officer never got the chance to intervene or help.
As officers approached the home, the first shots rang out, according to York. They came from a garage window and sent everyone in front of the house scattering.
One bullet almost hit the officer from the Crisis Intervention Team, York said.
As officers retreated and took up positions around the home, the young man exited the garage and got into a vehicle. He used that to chase one officer up a neighboring driveway, shooting at police and hitting nearby homes in the process.
He was firing indiscriminately, York said.
‘I’m just in shock’
Lisa Gallmeyer began the morning like nearly every other day.
She dropped her 7-year-old daughter off at school. Then she drove back to her home in the 7800 block of Weymouth with her other two kids – 1 and 3 years old – in the car with her.
She also had the family’s 3-year-old dog in tow.
As Gallmeyer looked down the street, she noticed several police cars. Then she heard the shots.
She watched one officer duck behind a pile of dirt in a driveway. Another went to his squad car and pulled out a shotgun, racking it in the process.
Gallmeyer saw a young man speed his vehicle into a driveway a few houses down from his parents’ home. The guy was shooting out of his car, she said. Then he got out and they surrounded him.
Gallmeyer didn’t remember how many police officers descended upon the man. It may have been four. It may have been five. York would say later four officers discharged their weapons at some point during the encounter.
What she does remember, though, is the officers firing at the man as he stood in the driveway. She also said the man didn’t go down from the shots right away.
I’m just in shock, Gallmeyer said. You just don’t see that. I’m still processing it.
Another neighbor, who didn’t want to be identified, said she heard the officers tell the man to drop his weapon and get down before they opened fire.
Curious onlookers, newspaper reporters, newspaper photographers and television cameramen soon cluttered the street. They stared at the dozens of officers, detectives and prosecutors gathering behind yellow police tape.
Someone pointed down to a fire hydrant at the end of a driveway.
A body wrapped in a bluish green tarp.
The young man.
The cameras rolled and clicked.
Neither police nor the county coroner’s office has identified the young man, but neighbors who knew the family said he was Ryan Koontz.
The 22-year-old has had run-ins with the law.
In 2010, he was arrested after trying to hawk a stolen GPS unit on Craigslist and charged with a felony count of receiving stolen property and a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest.
He pleaded guilty to both counts.
A year later, he was arrested on a felony count of possession of marijuana and a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest, both of which he pleaded guilty to as part of a plea agreement.
In that case, Koontz rolled through a stop sign, refused to stop for a patrol car, led police on a short chase and tried to simply walk away from an officer after finally stopping.
The officer had to wrestle Koontz to the ground and call for backup because the struggle was so intense, according to Allen Superior Court documents.
He was also arrested in Steuben County on a misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle with a controlled substance in his body, according to court records.
Koontz pleaded guilty to that, as well.
On Oct. 1, one of Koontz’s parents called emergency dispatchers just after 6 p.m. and told them their son had shot himself in the chest in a suicide attempt, according to police dispatch logs.
Police and medics arrived, rendered care to Koontz and he lived.
It’s against the law in Indiana for a convicted felon to carry a firearm.
While he didn’t particularly want to go into the politics of guns, York said he has a very good guess how Koontz came in possession of the gun he used to shoot at police Thursday.
This will end up one of those sales between individuals that would be addressed with laws proposed for universal background checks, York said.
We know who bought that gun initially, he continued. Under the law today, that gun was legally transferred to this person.
But York wondered if the laws were different, if background checks were more stringent, whether his officers would’ve been walking into danger on a peaceful day in a neighborhood called Wheatridge.
And whether a young man would’ve ended up wrapped in a tarp at the end of a driveway.