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Police Chief, 2 Nursing Home Employees Killed; Shooter Dead

The chief was a father of six children with a seventh child on the way

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    NEWSLETTERS

    An Ohio police chief and two nursing home workers were killed Friday when a gunman opened fire at a nursing home. (Published Friday, May 12, 2017)

    An armed man gunned down a new village police chief on a street on Friday and then killed two employees in a nearby nursing home, where he later was found dead, a sheriff said. No nursing home residents were injured.

    The slain police chief, Steven Eric Disario, had headed the Kirkersville Police Department for only about three weeks, Licking County Sheriff Randy Thorp said. Disario was shot on a street near the Pine Kirk Care Center, and the two female employees and the gunman were found dead inside, Thorp said.

    Disario, 36, was a father of six children, with a seventh on the way, the sheriff said.

    Thorp called it a hard day for all.

    "We've lost a police officer. It's just a tragic event," he said. "I guess the only peace of mind is that the threat is over."

    Flowers and flags appeared in an impromptu memorial outside the village police hall.

    Thorp gave the following timeline of events:

    The gunman was in a wooded area behind the nursing home when he encountered two passers-by, whom he temporarily took hostage.

    Disario, responding to a report of a man with a gun, apparently encountered the gunman in that area. The chief's last radio communication said he had the man in sight.

    When a shot was fired at the chief, the hostages escaped unharmed.

    "We don't know the cause or the purpose or what drove this individual to do this," Thorp said, adding that was being investigated.

    Responding officers found Disario on the street and then investigated a report of a gunman at the nursing home, Thorp said.

    Some nursing home residents barricaded themselves during the shooting, but none of them was injured, he said.

    Police weren't immediately able to identify the gunman and were trying to determine what, if any, relationship he had with the nursing home, Thorp said. Although he was not identified by police, family members said the gunman was 43-year-old Thomas Hartless, NBC affiliate WCMH reported.

    The facility is secure, and it's unclear how the gunman got in, he said.

    The shooting closed down the main street in the village, which was flooded with police officers from several surrounding agencies and with ambulances. The village of about 500 residents is roughly 25 miles (39 kilometers) east of Columbus.

    "This is a really small town, and everybody knows everybody," Kirkersville resident Debbie Messer told the Columbus Dispatch. "These things don't happen here."

    A woman who works about a block away said she heard gunshots followed by screaming and then sirens.

    "You could hear a guy yelling," Kathy Rogers said. "He was yelling and screaming. I'm not really sure what he was saying, it was like a block away. It was just a nightmare."

    Pine Kirk is licensed for 24 patients and had 23 as of May 3, according to Ohio Department of Health records. A message was left with the center.

    Peter Van Runkle, the head of the state trade association representing nursing homes, told the Dispatch that Pine Kirk caters to "the forgotten members of society."

    "They provide them with a small environment that's less institutional than some facilities might be," he said. "They do a good job of taking care of a niche clientele."

    The state Bureau of Criminal Investigation is leading the probe into what happened.

    Gov. John Kasich ordered flags flown at half-staff in Licking County and the Statehouse and expressed his condolences in a tweet.

    "Join me in praying for his family, friends and colleagues, and for the others injured in this tragedy," the Republican governor said.