Family of couple randomly shot on pier searching for answers

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SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Family and police have released more information about Friday’s shooting at the beach in South Haven.

Police say the gunman shot two people before turning the gun on himself.

For Charles Skuza and his wife of nearly 50 years, Barbara, it was just another walk on the south pier — something they loved to do in retirement.

Police respond to a shooting on South Pier at South Haven on Aug. 20, 2021.

“They went for a walk on the beach, then walked on the pier,” Charles’ brother Barry Skuza told News 8 on Monday. “Hundreds of people do it every day.”

Then at 2:15 p.m. Friday, a complete stranger, 19-year-old Aidan Ingalls, approached them on the pier and shot them at point-blank range. The gunman then shot and killed himself.

Police say the shooting was random.

Charles Skuza, 73, of the Kalamazoo area died in the shooting. His wife remains in critical condition as of Tuesday.

“It’s touch and go,” Barry Skuza said.

On Monday, a single bouquet of flowers decorated a ledge of the lighthouse.

A single bouquet of flowers decorated a ledge of the lighthouse in South Haven after a shooting. (Aug. 23, 2021)

The shooting has left relatives struggling for answers about the randomness of it all. Many are wondering, why this couple?

“I don’t know what to say,” the brother said. “It just gets you. You can’t spot mental illness just looking at somebody. You just can’t. You don’t know what to say.”

Charles Skuza was a retired biologist who had worked at a Kalamazoo hospital, where he met his wife, a nurse, according to his brother. They married in 1974 and had four daughters, he said.

“He was a good guy, got up and went to work every day, and honest to everybody,” he said.

A representative for the Skuza family released the following statement Tuesday morning:

“We are devastated beyond belief over the loss of our beloved father and we continue to pray for the recovery of our mother who we hold very dear.  We are forever thankful for the first responders, doctors, and nurses who acted courageously to save our mother’s life. We wish to extend our gratitude to the medical staff continuing to provide critical care and encouragement to our family. We stand in solidarity with the community.  We will not be defeated by senseless violence. Thank you for your prayers and for respecting our need for privacy during this difficult time.”

With gratitutude, the family of Chuck and Barb Skuza

THIS TRAGEDY ‘COULD AND SHOULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED’

Officials confirm the shooter had legal trouble before. They say Ingalls planned an attack on Paw Paw High School in 2018. He was 15 at the time.

Ingalls was sentenced to inpatient treatment in June 2018. He was released in November 2019. In July 2021 — about a month before the South Haven shooting — he was discharged from all supervision.

Ingalls’ defense attorney had argued the teen was bullied at school, though school leaders refute that.

During a press conference Monday afternoon, nearly two dozen law enforcement officers gathered to say this did not have to happen.

Officials confirmed that in the planned attack on Paw Paw High School, Ingalls had explosives and firearms in his backpack ready to use. Van Buren County Prosecuting Attorney Susan Zuiderveen went on to say Ingalls’ plan was well thought out and included hurting large numbers of people and sparing his family from any danger.

He had taken weapons from his grandparents’ home, according to authorities.

Zuiderveen said she pushed to try the 15-year-old as an adult in 2018, but after a two-day hearing, a Van Buren County judge ruled Ingalls should be tried as a juvenile.

“This is a tragedy that we feel could and should have been prevented. Our goal must be to make sure this doesn’t happen again in our community,” Zuiderveen said.

Those who investigated Ingalls in 2018 say they hope this story goes national and forces everyone to focus more on mental health and find more ways to prevent these tragedies.

“Unfortunately, what took place Friday was not a shock to a lot of us,” Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel Abbott said.

Authorities said they feared of a future tragedy.

“The reality is this is one on those cases that could have been preventable, and it wasn’t,” Paw Paw Police Chief Eric Marshall said. “Judge Dufon made the wrong decision in this case.”

News 8 tried to reach Judge Jeffrey Dufon to talk about the 2018 decision. His office said he was unavailable.

The county’s chief judge released a statement Monday afternoon:

“Our justice system is a constant balancing act – balancing our rights and liberties as
individuals with the safety and security of the public. We have our state and federal
constitutions, statutes, court rules, and processes designed to find that balance and to protect
both interests.
Those processes always work better when the different players in the justice system work
together. In this case, after much deliberation, there was agreement by the elected prosecutor
at the time that the chosen path forward was the right one, and there was no appeal of the
court’s decision.
Today, we all mourn a tragedy, offer our condolences to the affected families, and should
come together as a community to make sure that we all support and help those in need.”

Chief Judge Kathleen Brickley

Authorities in Van Buren County say the investigation is ongoing and they are working with the FBI to learn more about where the weapons used Friday came from.

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