GARDENDALE, Ala. (AP) — Three people gunned down at the start of a daylong drama were victims of what authorities called a carefully planned ambush by a 52-year-old Florida man who then fatally shot himself in a parking lot in Florida as police closed in on him.
Kenneth Dion Lever ended his own life Wednesday afternoon after returning to Escambia County, Florida, and meeting with a minister, police said. His suicide came about eight hours after he methodically shot his victims: 50-year-old Dana Reeves Lever, his ex-wife; her sister, 65-year-old Bonnie Reeves Foshee; and her brother-in-law, 69-year-old Don Foshee.
“He planned it. It was obvious it was a well-thought-out plan,” said Gardendale police Lt. Bryan Lynch. “He came for that reason. We don’t know if he was targeting all three, or if that’s just how it happened.”
The 11-year-old daughter of Dana and Ken Lever was able to escape physical harm. “The sad part is his own daughter was there to witness this,” Lynch said.
The ordeal began about 8 a.m. at Dana Lever’s home in Gardendale’s Peachtree Crossings community. Authorities and relatives said Bonnie and Don Foshee were at the home to pick up Dana Lever and her daughter to travel to Chicago to watch the Lever’s son graduate from boot camp for the U.S. Navy.
They were packing up the van when Ken Lever emerged from a shed where he had been hiding. “He was lying in ambush for them when this took place,” said Gardendale Police Chief Mike Walker. “As they were engaged in what looks like packing up the van to go to celebrate this graduation, her father appears with a weapon and begins shooting them one at a time.”
Ken Lever – wearing a camo t-shirt and blue jeans and armed with a handgun – opened fire. “He came out and began shooting,” Lynch said. “All of it took place outside.”
The daughter, police said, ran to a neighbor’s home for help.
“She did see enough to know what happened and then she ran to a neighbor’s house,” Lynch said. “So we knew very quickly who the suspect was.”
Police descended on the area, and a tracking dog and helicopter joined in the search, along with federal agents.
Officers said Ken Lever had driven a car to the neighborhood — a red Nissan rented in Pensacola, Florida — and parked it by the community pool. He then walked in on foot. Afterward, he jumped in one of the victim’s vehicles and drove back to the pool where he dumped that and got back into the Nissan.
Gardendale police put the neighborhood on lockdown and canvassed the area. By 10 a.m., they assumed he had managed to elude lawmen. Still, they fielded numerous tips and sightings, checking Gardendale area neighborhoods and businesses.
Meanwhile, Lynch said, they had to break devastating news to the young girl.
“She didn’t know that the victims were dead,” Lynch said. “We felt like we had to let her know that.”
“The chief and I sat her down and the chief told her that her mom had passed away,” Lynch said.
Almost immediately, child welfare workers were brought in to place the girl in protective custody. Police were hesitant to put her with other family members for fear that Ken Lever would then track her, and them, down.
Police were in constant contact with authorities in Florida, believing he might be headed back toward home. By late morning, Escambia County sheriff’s deputies had already staked out Ken Lever’s home there, as well as one other location.
The U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force was quickly honing in on Ken Lever’s whereabouts. “That’s somebody you never want coming looking for you,” Lynch said.
Meanwhile, an Escambia County sheriff’s deputy had spotted Ken Lever in the Nissan. Once he knew he was spotted, authorities say, the suspect stepped out of his vehicle and shot himself dead.
Again, authorities had to deliver bad news to the young girl. “We then had to tell her that her father committed suicide,” Lynch said.
Authorities said the Red Cross and U.S. Navy officials were in contact with police during the day and were handling notifying the son of the incident and the deaths.
Other family members found out throughout the day. The brother of Don Foshee, Gerald Foshee, said his brother was a Vietnam veteran. He said he and brother, both of whom grew up in north Birmingham, were very close.
“My brother was a great guy, very family oriented and he would have done anything for anyone,” Foshee said. “He survived Vietnam only for him and his wife to be killed by this idiot.”