KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Authorities say the man who was killed during a home invasion near Kalamazoo Sunday night was a young father who was just spending time with his wife and daughter when an intruder broke in.
The homeowner was identified Monday as Christopher Ryan Lee Neal, 22. Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said he was new to the area.
“He was taking care of his family last night,” Fuller said. “But that was also a team effort because the mother protected their child.”
Neal’s wife and daughter hid amid what Fuller called “40 minutes of mayhem” and both are OK.
Law enforcement officials offered their condolences to the family, calling Neal’s death senseless and tragic.
“When I got back here (to the sheriff’s office) last night, I was listening to the child play in the other room as the deputies were talking to the mom,” Fuller said during a Monday press conference, “and it struck me that this young child has a new future, a new future brought upon her by a tragic event that can’t be erased.”
Neal’s sister-in-law, Emilie Murphy, spoke to News 8 on Monday and said Neal “adored his wife and child.”
“Chris was a loving father and doting husband who everyone loved,” she said.
Neal’s friend, Tanner Jones, spoke to News 8 on the phone about the tragic loss.
Jones said Neal is considered a role model in his small-town Texas community.
Quinlan Independent School District, where Neal attended school growing up, posted to social media Monday, sharing a video made last year that featured Neal as one of the district’s inspirational alumni.
“He was proud to be from Quinlan, proud to be in the military and very proud of his family,” QISD wrote in the post.
Jones said after high school, Neal went straight into the Navy where he met his wife Haley.
“He just wanted a better life for himself, so he joined the Navy to serve his country,” Jones said.
From serving his country to serving his family, Chris loved being a new father.
“I called him ‘little mama,’” Jones said. “He wanted to be the stay-at-home parent. He was more maternal than a father — he’s just a wonderful dad.”
Jones was horrified to read the details of Neal’s death, but wasn’t surprised to learn he died protecting his family.
“I know Chris. I know he’d do anything to protect his family and it shows,” Jones said.
Terry Ammon, a neighbor, was unsure how to cope with the whirlwind of emotions that she’s feeling, so she laid flowers outside the home the following evening.
“A new married couple (moves here) with a child and he’s murdered in his own home,” Ammon said. “It takes my breath away that this can happen here.”
Three officers were shot responding to the home invasion in Comstock Township, but none sustained serious injuries.
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Officer Caleb Jones — a three-year veteran of the agency, patrol officer and SWAT member — took a bullet to the shoulder, KDPS Director Karianne Thomas said. Jones was the only one of the three officers to remain in the hospital Monday morning, where he was listed in good condition.
Michigan State Police Trooper Mark Fletcher was shot once in the lower leg. MSP Lt. Angel Ouwinga said he was doing well Monday morning.
A sheriff’s deputy received a graze to the head. Fuller did not release the deputy’s name, saying they had not discussed it, but said he has been with the department a little less than a year.
The sheriff said the incident appears to have been random. After getting 911 calls around 10:30 p.m. Sunday, the sheriff’s office, MSP and KDPS converged on the home on Proctor Avenue near King Highway.
Fuller said responding officers “did everything they could.” At the scene, they heard a gunshot and moved into the house, at which point the three officers were hit.
“There were a lot of rounds fired off last night by the suspect — a lot,” Fuller said. “And no officers were in a position to return any fire because they were worried about other victims. And that’s why you have three injured officers today and a suspect in custody.”
The suspect was arrested as he tried to get away and is expected to face several charges including murder, home invasion, unlawful imprisonment, multiple counts of assault with intent to commit murder (for the injuries to the officers) and weapons charges.
KDPS Chief Thomas noted it was a “sobering” weekend in southwest Michigan, with a Battle Creek police officer shot multiple times and wounded early Saturday. That suspected shooter is also in custody.
“I’m so proud of this entire law enforcement community. We truly come together as a team when this happens and we truly keep this community safe as a team,” Thomas said Monday. “I’m thankful, so thankful, for all my officers, for their dedication and their training and their commitment to this community and I hope everyone realizes this weekend that they love the work they do and that they’re here to protect everyone.”
This is the second time this year one of Thomas’ officers has been shot. In March, a man lured Kalamazoo police to a downtown business and opened fire on them. An officer was hit but was saved by his bulletproof vest.