July 7, 2011: 7 Killed During a Murder Spree in Grand Rapids


On July 7, 2011, a gunman named Rodrick Dantzler went on a killing spree which ended the lives of 7 people, all people that he knew, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also shot 2 people while driving down the road, but they survived their injuries.

After a police chase, Dantzler took several hostages to a nearby house where he stayed for some time, until he ultimately took his own life.


Rodrick Dantzler was a 34-year-old building technician from Grand Rapids. Before the murders, he was no stranger to criminal activity. At just 15 years old, he was convicted for burglary. 3 years later, his mother kicked him out of the house and filed a protection order against him. This added to the list of 3 other women who had filed protection orders against Dantzler for threatening abuse. That year, he also set his mother's house on fire.

In 1997, he was convicted of domestic violence and destroying property. In 2000, he was charged with assault when he shot someone in a road rage incident, which landed him a 3-10 year prison sentence. While in prison, he tried anger management programs and received a high school diploma equivalent before his release in 2005.

After he was released, it became clear that he had bipolar disorder and was not taking medication for it. He was receiving disability money for his mental health conditions.

In 2010, he went back to jail for a year after an assault and battery charge. His mother would later describe him as a man with an "explosive temper" who would act violently without thought. He was a known alcohol abuser, and on the day of the killing spree, had alcohol and cocaine in his system.

Dantzel was married to Jennifer Heeren and they had a 12-year-old daughter together. The marriage was "estranged" and they were not living together. In the weeks leading up to the murders, Jennifer had planned to separate from her husband. However, a few days before the killing spree, he took his wife and daughter to Michigan's Adventure, an amusement park, in Muskegon.


The shooting spree began on July 7, 2011. Dantzler went to a home on Plainfield Avenue NE where 27-year-old Amanda Emkens and her 10-year-old daughter, Marisa Emkens, lived with Dantzler's ex-girlfriend, 23-year-old Kimberlee Emkens. He had not been in recent contact with Kimberlee.

After killing everyone in that home, he drove to Brynell Court NE where his estranged wife, 29-year-old Jennifer Heeren was living with the couple's 12-year-old daughter Kamrie, and Jennifer's parents, 51-year-old Thomas and 52-year-old Rebecca.

The police got involved after Dantzler's mother called them at around 2:30 PM because her son had called to tell her that he killed his wife. Police went to his home, where he lived alone since his wife and daughter had moved in with her parents, but no one was home. Soon after, the murders were discovered. They arrived, too late, as everyone was already dead, and closed down the streets, telling everyone to stay inside of their homes.

While fleeing the second murder scene, Dantzler shot a random victim, Robert Poore, in a road rage incident, but he was not seriously injured.

At about 7:00 PM, hours after the police were alerted to the spree but with no sign of their suspect, a friend of Dantzler's named April Swanson called the police to report that Dantzler was following her car. He began shooting at her from his car, which resulted in a serious, but ultimately not fatal, injury. He also fired into a random truck, but nobody was injured.

Police arrived on the scene and rammed his car, but he was able to get away. Gunfire was exchanged, but nobody was shot. The police began chasing him while trying to disable his vehicle. The chase had only lasted over 10 minutes when he crashed his car into a freeway ditch and ran off on foot. He ran to a home on Rickman Avenue NE and held the residents hostage.

Inside was 53-year-old Joyce Bean and her boyfriend, Steve Helderman, as well as a woman named Meg Holmes. He had no connection to them, but was using them as leverage with the police. At about 9:30 PM, he release Joyce after the police offered to give him cigarettes and Gatorade.

He tried to negotiate with the police, but he was distraught and contemplating suicide. At 11:30 PM, while in the room with Steve and Meg, he fatally shot himself in the head.

The police believe that he was triggered by the pending separation from his wife, and that he was "hunting" former girlfriends. He had a lot of ammunition, and they believe that he was not done when he was caught.


In total, Dantzler murdered 7 people during his killing spree, including his wife and daughter. Entire families were lost that day. Family, friends and colleagues remember the beautiful people the innocent victims once were. (2)

Jennifer Heeren, 29 was Dantzler's wife, though the relationship was described as abusive. She was a loving mom and a hard worker. She was "an intelligent young woman who was extremely motivated and very focused on caring for her young daughter," according to the company that her father owned.

Kamrie Heeren-Dantzler was only 12 years old when her father killed her. She was a middle schooler who got great grades, loved to read, and enjoyed camping with her grandparents. Neighbors described her as sweet, kind and thoughtful. They remember that she and her dad were often happy, playing outside together.

Rebecca Heeren, 52 was "outspoken, funny, and kept her family going" according to her husband's company. She loved people and children. As the matriarch of the family who kept everything in line, her husband, who died with her, would jokingly call her "the general".

Thomas Heeren, 52, co-owned the family business, Heeren Brothers Produce. He was dedicated to his company, but also to his family. Despite looking "rough around the edges", he had a warm heart. His company said "we remember him as a man with the kindest of hearts who would give you the shirt off his back."

Kimberlee Emkens, 23, was a former girlfriend of the killer who was living with her sister and niece. She was involved in her 10-year-old niece's life, offering to chaperone all of the field trips she could, the principal of 10-year-old Marissa remembered. A friend of Kimberlee and Amanda's said that the family were "great people" and they were there for him whenever he needed anything.

Amanda Emkens, 27 was "the nicest, sweetest person you could imagine, full of life and love" according to her good friend. She was a great mother to her 10-year-old, and was studying occupational therapy at Grand Rapids Community College.

The shooting spree began on July 7, 2011. Dantzler went to a home on Plainfield Avenue NE where 27-year-old Amanda Emkens and her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Emkens, lived with Dantzler's ex-girlfriend, 23-year-old Kimberlee Emkens. He had not been in recent contact with Kimberlee. he could continue working in the office. She was a girlie-girl, and the principal said the school would be missing a piece without Marissa there in the fall.

Flowers and other items were left outside of the homes where the shootings occurred the day after the massacre. The local Huntington Bank collected donations for the families and hundreds of people attended a vigil for the victims. The police were thanked and honored for their handling of the situation. (1)

A community church service was held on July 13, 2011 to honor the victims of the attack, which was attended by over 200 people. The funeral for the 3 members of the Emkens family was also held on July 13, and the Heeren family's funeral was held on July 15. Dantzler's funeral was held the same day. (1)

Whenever I think of a shooting spree, I think of something random. Not that that would be better in any way, but I just don't think of entire families being taken out. The Heeren family lost grandma, grandpa, daughter and granddaughter. And entire family just, gone. The Emkens family lost mom, sister and daughter. Gone. For no reason at all. (1)

Dantzler, an abusive, mentally ill man, was upset his wife was going to leave him. And so, he killed her. And her parents. And their young daughter. And in his rage, he also killed an ex-girlfriend he was not in any sort of contact with, her older sister, and her niece. I can't even understand being so mad or upset or triggered by 1 person that you not only murder them, but take 6 other innocent lives with them. (1)

My heart is with what is left of the Heeren and Emken families. I cannot imagine losing one family member in such a tragic, senseless incident, let alone 3 or 4. I hope they have been able to find peace and happiness over the last 9 years without their beloved family members, and hope that remembering the light that they once brought to the world brings them some joy. (1)


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Grand_Rapids_mass_murder

2. https://detroit.cbslocal.com/2011/07/09/a-look-at-the-victims-of-grand-rapids-shooting-rampage/

© 2023 by Train of Thoughts. Proudly created with Wix.com