Susan Zuiderveen photo SH tribune

Van Buren County Prosecutor Susan Zuiderveen is showng speaking at Monday's press conference regarding the death of 19-year-old Aidan Ingalls after he shot a couple at random on South Pier in South Haven before turning the handgun on himself.

PAW PAW — A journal entry penned several years ago foreshadowed Friday’s deadly shooting, where a Bangor man went on a shooting spree at South Haven’s South Pier, authorities say.

At a Monday news conference, Van Buren County Prosecuting Attorney Susan Zuiderveen said Aidan Ingalls, 19, had written in a journal that he had planned to shoot people at a South Haven Fourth of July fireworks display.

“In his journal, he spoke of the Fourth of July fireworks where he would take firearms and kill as many people as he could,” Zuiderveen said at the news conference, which was held in front of the Van Buren County courthouse.

This year’s Fourth of July fireworks display in South Haven was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this past Friday, Ingalls went to the South Pier shortly after 2 p.m. – equipped with two handguns – and shot a couple in what South Haven Police Chief Natalie Thompson has called “a random shooting.”

The husband was killed, while his wife was flown to Bronson Methodist Hospital. Ingalls then shot himself and died on the pier.

As of Monday, Thompson said the woman remains in critical condition.

A family member told media outlets on Monday that the shooting victims are his brother and sister-in-law, Charles and Barbara Skuza of Kalamazoo. Barry Skuza said his 73-year-old brother and wife loved taking walks on South Haven beaches. Charles was a retired biologist at a Kalamazoo hospital, while his wife was a nurse at the same hospital.

Law enforcement personnel seized the journal in 2018 after Ingalls – who was 15 at the time – went to the Van Buren County Sheriff’s office with his mother, after she and her boyfriend found guns and ammunition in the boy’s bedroom.

The journal detailed his plans to shoot students and bomb Paw Paw High School, where he had been recently enrolled. The journal, Zuiderveen said, also detailed mutilation and killing of animals and his intent to shoot people at the popular Fourth of July holiday fireworks show in South Haven.

“The journal was very disturbing,” Zuiderveen said.

After learning of Ingalls’ intentions to go on a shooting spree at Paw Paw High School in 2018, the prosecuting attorney’s office wanted to try Ingalls as an adult; charging him with possession of explosives with intent to target a vulnerable target, one count of possession of bombs with unlawful intent and eight other weapon-related charges.

However, Van Buren County Judge Jeffrey Dufon ruled Ingalls should be referred to juvenile court after hearing testimony from the defense that with intensive therapy, medication, structure and family therapy, Ingalls could become mentally healthy.

Zuiderveen said she was unconvinced and feared the worst once Ingalls was done with the juvenile court system and out on his own as an adult.

“There was so much anger in that journal,” Zuiderveen said. “A judge released him (from probation) on July 20, 2021, just 31 days before the shooting.”

When hearing word of the deadly shooting on the South Pier, a number of law enforcement officials said they were saddened by the shooting, but not surprised.

“What took place was not a lot of shock to us,” said Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel Abbott. “We hope this goes nationwide. We hope and pray this case prevents another one from happening.”

Zuiderveen claimed Monday that if Ingalls had been tried as an adult, he may have been incarcerated longer and that other treatment options would have been available.

“We could have done more with the length of probation; different options,” she said.

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, however, Judge Kathleen Brickley, chief of Van Buren County courts, took issue with the prosecutor's office and law enforcement personnel's indication that the shooting at the pier may never have happened if Ingalls had initially been tried as an adult at the age of 15.

"Our justice system is a constant balancing act – balancing our rights and liberties as individuals with the safety and security of the public," Brickley wrote. "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 (Michael Bedford) 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."

Regardless of what the prosecutor’s office had hoped for, in June 2018, a Van Buren County judge sentenced Ingalls, as a juvenile, to spend a year in a residential treatment center in Gaylord under the supervision of the Michigan Department of Human Services. Ingalls remained at the facility until his 19th birthday.

He then was released to the custody of his grandparents in Bangor, Abbott said.

‘I thought that was strange’

While in the residential treatment center in Gaylord, Ingalls obtained his GED, a family member stated two years ago.

Earlier this year, Lake Michigan College records indicated he had been named to the winter semester dean’s list at LMC, where he was enrolled as a part-time student.

He also was employed at the Big Boy restaurant in South Haven for the past two years, according to a co-worker who said she had become friends with Ingalls. The co-worker was at the news conference, listening as a bystander. While the news conference was winding down, she spoke with two reporters.

“He was a close friend of mine at work. He was someone I looked forward to seeing,” said the employee, who did not want her name used. “I knew he had suicidal tendencies. He would talk about it.”

As one example, the co-worker said when the quarantine was lifted and employees no longer had to wear masks, “He said, ‘I should take my life anyways.’ I thought that was strange.”

On the day of the shooting, Ingalls was scheduled to work at 3 p.m., but came in early.

“He talked to people and he left some stuff for people, I was told,” the co-worker said. “Before he left, he turned around and waved at people. He said he’d be back.”

But Ingalls didn’t return to work for his 3 p.m. shift.

Instead he went to the beach, and shortly after 2 p.m., shot the couple on the South Pier and then turned the gun on himself.

During Monday’s news conference, Thompson said police are still investigating where Ingalls had obtained the two handguns he was carrying.

She did not indicate a motive for the shooting.