Mourners in a Michigan town have held a prayer service for the victims of America’s latest mass shooting.
Six people were killed on Saturday night by a gunman in Kalamazoo, about 240 kilometres west of Detroit. Two other people were wounded, including a teenage girl who was initially reported to have died.
As the victims’ names were displayed on a screen, pastor Brian Stone told the congregation at the Centerpoint Church that it was natural to ask why such a thing could happen, and there was “no easy answer”.
Police have arrested taxi driver Jason Dalton. It has been confirmed that the 45-year-old worked for the cab-hailing app Uber.
It is alleged he shot his victims at random at three locations – a car park outside a block of flats, a car dealership, and a Cracker Barrel restaurant – over a period of five hours.
“He has no criminal history that we know of, no incidents, nothing in his background that we know of, or anything that we know about him, that would lead us to believe he was capable of this type of behaviour,” said Kalamazoo police chief Jeff Hadley.
We are horrified and heartbroken at the senseless violence in Kalamazoo. Statement from our Chief Security Officer: https://t.co/jWr57KY49W— Uber (@Uber) February 21, 2016
Police are investigating reports that the suspect collected fares between attacks. An Uber passenger told local TV channel WWMT that he had unsuccessfully tried to alert the company after a wild ride with Dalton about an hour before the first shooting was reported.
Uber said it would help with the police investigation “in any way that we can”.
Among the dead, gunned down with his father Richard outside the car showroom, was 17-year-old Tyler Smith.
An official from the school he attended said the challenge would be to help students “still believe in the world”. Mattawan Consolidated Schools’ superintendent Robin Buchler said her son, a classmate of Tyler, described him as “well-liked” with a “constant smile on his face”.
The attack has prompted renewed interest in how Uber vets drivers, who use their personal vehicles to ferry customers at prices that are usually lower than those of established taxi companies.
Critics say the company’s procedure if flawed because it never meets in person with potential drivers. Uber says on its website that all its drivers in the US are required to go through a pre-screening process that includes a review of their records.
The flag here at the Kalamazoo Co courthouse is already lowered in honor of the victims in Saturday's rampage. pic.twitter.com/8Gpr6Mmzzx— Jessica Wheeler (@jessicawheeler3) February 22, 2016
The carnage in Kalamazoo was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have made gun control a campaign issue in this year’s US presidential election.
An FBI investigation into ‘active shooting incidents’ in 2014 reported a sharp increase in such shootings in preceding years, from an average of 6.4 incidents annually between 2000 and 2007, to an average of 16.4 incidents after 2007.
Statistics vary according to the definition of ‘mass shooting’a survey by the independent news organisation Mother Jones has estimated that there were 73 mass public shootings in the US between 1982 and 2015, with about half of them having occurred since 2006, seven incidents happening in 2012 alone.