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Kalamazoo rampage victims were attacked doing ordinary weekend activities

The eight people shot seemingly randomly by a rampaging Uber driver Saturday were cut down on what otherwise seemed to be an ordinary weekend evening.
A man places flowers at a Cracker Barrel where a gunman went on a shooting rampage, on Feb. 21, 2016 in Kalamazoo, Mich. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty)
A man places flowers at a Cracker Barrel where a gunman went on a shooting rampage, on Feb. 21, 2016 in Kalamazoo, Mich. 

The eight people shot by a rampaging Uber driver Saturday were cut down on what otherwise seemed to be an ordinary weekend evening.

A mother standing outside her apartment. A father and son checking out cars at a Kia dealership. A group of women and a teenage girl heading home after seeing a play.

All had the horrible luck of ending up in the path of Jason Brian Dalton, who, according to authorities, was driving around the city in a Chevrolet HHR sport utility vehicle, armed with a semiautomatic handgun, shooting people at random.

"It's just a normal thing that you don't think would end in this kind of heartbreak," said Robin Buchler, superintendent of Mattawan High School, where Tyler Smith was a student.

There is no obvious motive, nothing to tie the three sets of victims together — circumstances that make the attacks particularly difficult to process, authorities said.

"How do you go and tell the families of these victims that they weren't targeted for any reason other than they were there to be a target?" Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting said.

The first victim, described by a neighbor as a mother of multiple children, was shot about 5:42 p.m. ET outside the Meadows Townhomes on G Avenue in the northeast part of the city, police said. The woman, whom officials have not identified, survived.

More than four hours later and on the other side of town, Richard Smith, 53, was looking at cars with his 17-year-old son, Tyler, at Seelye Kia on Stadium Drive, Buchler said. Dalton killed them both, authorities say.

Not long after that, a group of women and a 14-year-old girl were parked in two cars outside a nearby Cracker Barrel restaurant. They were returning home after seeing a play, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said.

Four of them were in a Chevrolet Cruze: Mary Jo Nye, 60, of Battle Creek, Michigan, was behind the wheel. The 14-year-old girl was in the front passenger seat. In the back were Dorothy Brown, 74, and Barbara Hawthorne, 68, also of Battle Creek.

Next to them, driving an Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan, was the sister-in-law — and best friend — of Mary Jo Nye: Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda, Michigan.

Dalton approached them, spoke to them briefly and then "unloaded his weapon into both cars," Kalamazoo County Undersheriff Paul Matyas said.

RELATED: Kalamazoo shootings: 6 dead, 2 wounded after ‘random’ shootings in Michigan

All were killed but the girl, who was believed to be dead for more than an hour but squeezed her mother's hand as doctors prepared to harvest her organs, Michigan State Police Lt. Dale Hinz told NBC News. She was rushed into surgery in what authorities have called a miracle.

Snyder said the girl was "working hard to stay alive," according to The Associated Press.

The woman shot next to her, Mary Jo Nye, was a retired teacher who worked many years at a school that served at-risk students, a former colleague told The AP.

Tara Egnatuk, assistant director of Calhoun Community High School, said Nye helped students become better writers by taking "baby steps" to get them to open up. Nye "played a really integral part in a lot of kids' lives," Egnatuk said.

Dorothy Brown was remembered as a kind neighbor and avid vegetable gardener. When Patrick Mallon Jr., who lived next door, would go on vacation, the AP reported, Brown would tend to the family's cat and watch their home. He always returned the favor, shoveling her driveway when it snowed.

Mary Lou Nye had reached the rank of staff sergeant in the Air Force. Her son, Bart, told NBC News that his mother and aunt — Mary Jo Nye — lived together during college and had remained close.

"They were really awesome, wonderful, loving people," Bart said. "My mom doted on us when we were kids, and my aunt took care of us when Mom and Dad were on active duty in the Air Force."

The sisters-in-law had planned an evening out that started with dinner at Cracker Barrel, where one left her car before they headed to Miller Auditorium to see a show featuring Chinese acrobats.

"That way, they only had to pay for parking for one car," Bart said, adding that once the show ended, they went back to the parking lot to pick up a car and part ways. It was at that moment that the gunman appeared and began shooting.

Bart's father, Christopher, became suspicious when Mary Lou didn't call him after the show. So he began frantically dialing everyone he could to find her.

"He got no answer," Bart recalled.

The next morning, the police arrived with grim news: both women had been shot dead.

"Why?" Bart asked. "What purpose did this serve other than to shoot people?"

"It's just completely senseless," he added.

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