A 48-year-old Goshen woman who was taking college classes and had recently become a paralegal at a local law firm, was gunned down in broad daylight Monday morning while walking to work in downtown Goshen. The gunnman, who was the victim’s ex-boyfriend, then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide, according to Goshen police.
The incident happened around 7:47 a.m. in the 100 block of North Fifth Street, police said, when John Eric Haitsma, 51, a former police officer and Goshen business owner, shot and killed Millicent Morros after a brief discussion between the two individuals. Morros was a paralegal at Yoder, Ainley, Ulmer & Buckingham law office in downtown Goshen and Haitsma owned and operated Haitsma Lawn Care and also worked at Liberty Tax Service. He served as a Goshen police officer from 1990 to 1998 before resigning to start his business.
Upon responding to the scene Monday, Goshen police found two motionless people lying on the ground in the parking lot on the east side of North Fifth Street directly across from the First Quality Cleaners & Laundry business.
Police immediately had the Lincoln Avenue/Fifth Street intersection blocked off with police vehicles, and yellow police tape was used to cordon off nearly the entire block. Numerous investigators, as well as the coroner, could be seen canvassing the street and nearby parking lots for any signs of evidence.
Further investigation and witness statements at the scene confirmed that the two subjects, later identified as Haitsma and Morros, both of Goshen, were known to one another, having previously been in a relationship that reportedly ended earlier this year.
Morros was originally from Niles, Mich.
Since the breakup, Morros had begun seeing somebody else, reported WSBT-TV. That man, Dennis Butler, told the station that Haitsma had kept texting and calling Morros in recent days and even showed up at her Goshen workplace last week.
There were no reports on file with Goshen police of any harassment between Morros and Haitsma.
According to Elkhart County Coroner John White, the death of Morros has been ruled a homicide resulting from multiple gunshot wounds, while Haitsma’s death has been ruled a suicide resulting from a single gunshot wound to the head.
Life’s loss felt
According to Goshen College staff, Morros graduated from Niles High School in 1982 and also attended Lake Michigan College. She earned an associate degree from Southwestern Michigan College and had been enrolled in GC’s adult degree program since fall 2011, where she had excelled and was named to the fall 2012 dean’s List. Goshen College President James Brenneman said that Morros was due to graduate from GC in May with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership through the adult education program,
“This is a tremendous loss for Millicent’s family and friends, and we invite your prayers for them at this difficult time,” Brenneman said in a statement. “... She will be missed.”
Co-workers of Morros at Yoder, Ainley, Ulmer & Buckingham said Monday that she was hired with the firm as an administrative assistant in July 2010 and had recently been promoted to estate paralegal. She was also a volunteer with Model School second-grade Reading Camp.
“Millicent’s good-natured manner was an asset to the firm,” firm officials said in a news release. “She was a valued employee and friend, and will be deeply missed by all of her colleagues.”
Morros’ family in Niles, Mich., declined to comment Monday afternoon. The Haitsma’ family, however, did issue a statement Monday.
“We give our grievances and condolences to the Morros family,” the statement read. “Our hearts go out to the family.”
In an unfortunate coincidence, the Morros family experienced a similar incident with Valorie Morros, Millicent’s older sister, who was shot and killed in 1990 at the age of 26 along with two others.
At the time, according to the South Bend Tribune archives, it was reported there were indications the three victims may have been part of a lovers’ triangle.
Thirty-two-year-old Ronald Schalliol was killed along with Valorie in the kitchen of a residence at 2119 Spansail in Niles Township.
According to the newspaper article, a tip then led police to an apartment on North Fifth Street, where 27-year-old Jay Scott Wilson shot himself in the head as officers tried to gain entry.
Bonnie Sutherland, an employee of The Goshen News, said she had just arrived to work a little before 8 a.m. Monday when she heard the gunshots ring out along Fifth Street.
“I was coming in the back door at between five and 10 minutes until 8 a.m., and I heard ‘bang, bang, bang’, three shots,” Sutherland said. “It sounded like it was coming from the corner over there at Fifth and Lincoln, so I thought, ‘OK, I’m heading inside!’ because I’d never heard anything like that. But that’s what first came to my mind, that it was gunshots, or somebody shooting off fireworks.”
Denise Bontrager, manager of the First Quality Cleaners & Laundry, said she was in the laundromat with just one customer when they heard the shots early Monday morning.
“We heard the sound, but we weren’t even thinking about a gunshot, so we didn’t go to see what it was,” Bontrager said. “We thought it might have been a car backfiring or something like that. You just don’t expect to hear something like that, especially here. And at 8 a.m. on a Monday, it’s just very strange. It’s not what you expect. So it’s definitely not a good way to start the day.”
Billie Wogomon, an Elkhart resident standing outside of the Elkhart Township Trustee’s Office at the corner of Lincoln and Fifth, said she arrived at the office just as police began to cordon off the area. A past resident of Goshen, Wogomon said she never thought she’d live to see the day when there would be shootings in downtown Goshen.
“It’s creepy,” Wogomon said of the shooting. “I never thought I’d ever see something like this in Goshen. ... It’s just really sad.”
Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman said the shooting was an unfortunate situation.
“I don’t know what could have been done to prevent it,” he said. “It’s a tragic incident that could have happened anywhere. My heart goes out to the families involved.”
Goshen News staffers Sherry Van Arsdall and Scott Weisser contributed to this report.