Judy Koontz noticed something was wrong Tuesday night. Her 22-year-old son’s attitude was different. He was saying stuff that didn’t make sense.
“I think you need help,” she told him. “Something’s not right. You’re not acting yourself.”
“I’m fine,” her son, Ryan Koontz, told her. “I’m fine.”
He kept acting strangely, and on Thursday morning, she decided to call Fort Wayne police for help.
“He just wasn’t our son,” she said. “I don’t want to say crazy. He just wasn’t himself.”
When officers arrived, she met them a couple of doors down from her house at 7823 Weymouth Court, just off Cook Road.
The officers knew they were dealing with a mentally unstable man who might have a gun and might have used mind-altering drugs. They also knew police had been to the house in October when Ryan Koontz shot himself in a suicide attempt. Dispatchers had been told he might be suicidal again and that he was in his room on the second floor.
Police developed a plan to draw him out of the house, telling his mother to call him with a story about how his father, who had left for work, needed help changing a flat tire.
She was about to make the call, but her son spotted officers positioning themselves around the house. And that’s when he started firing.
“When I heard the shots, I knew it wouldn’t be a good outcome,” his mother said.
As the officers went for cover, Ryan Koontz came out of the garage, got into a vehicle and chased an officer up a neighboring driveway. Armed with a semiautomatic pistol, he shot indiscriminately – at officers, at houses – and he refused to give up his gun, police said.
Officers converged on him in the driveway and shot him to death.
Despite the abrupt loss of her son, Judy Koontz said she has no ire toward the police. She thought the officers tried their best to use the least amount of force possible. She noted that before the exchange of gunfire, the officers had loaded a beanbag gun, a less-lethal option for subduing her son.
“I’m not blaming the police,” she said. “They were here trying to help me help him.”
‘Don’t know why’
Judy and her husband, Gary, adopted Ryan when he was two days old. They kept in touch with his birth family, and when he was 15 years old, he reunited with his birth parents.
“We made it a point to make sure that he knew his roots and part of his family, too,” she said.
Ryan Koontz graduated from Northrop High School in 2009, and he enrolled in Brown Mackie College in early 2012. He was close to earning a degree in fitness training and had plans to become a trainer.
In recent years, he had brushes with the law. In 2010, he was arrested after trying to sell a stolen GPS unit on Craigslist and was 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 marijuana possession and a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest, both of which he pleaded guilty to as part of a plea agreement.
But his mother said his criminal record did not define him. “He had issues in the past, but that really wasn’t who he was today,” she said.
Ryan Koontz lived with his parents and worked downtown as a sexton who took care of Trinity English Lutheran Church.
“He was loved there,” she said. “He had a smile for everybody.”
What happened to that bright personality on Oct. 1 is a mystery. That day, Ryan Koontz tried to kill himself with a gun, and he was taken to Parkview Behavioral Health hospital.
He was not diagnosed with a mental illness, but it was thought that his suicide attempt was the result of a psychotic episode possibly brought on by marijuana, his mother said.
She said she knew her son occasionally used pot and that he told her he did not take any other drugs. Whether this was true, she does not know.
“We don’t know why he tried to take his life,” she said. “Other than he said he thought it was his time.”
During a long talk after his suicide attempt, Ryan Koontz’s parents told him that only God can decide when he will die and not him; he accepted this. They told him they wanted him to receive counseling; he thought he was OK.
Because he was an adult, his parents felt limited in their options to help.
“He was a strong young man,” his mother said. “We couldn’t exactly hold him down and take him somewhere.”
As time went by, he seemed to become happier, she said. He seemed to move on.
Judy Koontz, 55, said she and her husband do not own guns and are against having them in their house. That topic came up after their son’s suicide attempt, she said. As a felon, he was prohibited from having a gun.
“We don’t know why he wanted to have a gun,” she said.
On Thursday, Judy Koontz told police her son might have a gun, since he had tried months ago to kill himself with one. And he, of course, did have a pistol.
“I don’t know how he got the gun. I wasn’t aware he had the gun,” she said. “I mean, I never saw it in the house.”
The day after his death, Ryan Koontz’s parents were looking for answers. They were hoping toxicology results from an autopsy report would eventually help to explain his erratic behavior.
“We don’t know if it was a mental illness, but he was definitely not right in his mind,” Judy Koontz said.
She and her husband wish they could have done more to help their son, but what that would have been, they don’t know.
“We felt we did everything we could within our means to try to get him help,” she said.