Final report on Landings shootings in Normal leaves 'why' unanswered
Nearly a year ago on a sunny late summer afternoon, a cascade of sharp cracks sounded in the Landings Mobile Home Park in Normal. Ronald Reiner, 66, a resident of the Landings, had taken his handgun and started shooting. Police responded with everyone on the shift, including school resource officers. When it was over, three people were dead.
Two victims died (Sharon Reiner and Julie Davis) and three other people were seriously or critically injured by Reiner. Police shot and killed Reiner during his shooting spree.
State Police have finally closed their investigation into the Aug. 30, 2021, shootings. Taking that long to finish the work is not unusual in cases of officer-involved shootings. Released portions of the report that runs hundreds of pages, other documents from Normal Police, and the autopsy report from the McLean County coroner’s office acquired through the Freedom of Information Act do not offer a conclusive interpretation of Reiner’s possible motive for the killing and shooting spree.
They do indicate he was troubled. The reports offer additional context for the public to understand the incident and include information previously not publicly known, and which supports conclusions made nearly two weeks after the shootings by McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp that police officers acted correctly, swiftly, and heroically in the face of danger.
“I began running toward the gunfire northbound,” wrote officer Cory Phillips in his report following the incident, a statement echoed over and over by officers in reports.
The documents enhance impressions from earlier video releases about how quickly officers reacted as Reiner moved through the residential area while shooting. Officer Phillips was cinching a tourniquet on the arm of a man who had been shot when Reiner walked around a shed and toward them.
“Before I could say anything, the male raised the gun toward me and the victim that I was standing with," wrote Phillips. "The male suspect fired his weapon in my direction. At this time, I feared death, or great bodily harm not only for myself, but for the already-injured victim next to me. I raised my duty weapon until I observed the male in my sight-picture, and I believe I fired rounds directly at the suspect.”
A witness account in the State Police report from a resident of the Landings also noted Reiner shot at officers before they returned fire. Reiner had by that time shot and killed two people.
“As we were returning fire, I noticed Officer Phillips retreating backwards and realized that he was out of ammunition and was in the process of reloading. At this point it was myself and the suspect exchanging gunfire and I continued to fire until he fell to the ground, and I believe the threat was stopped,” wrote officer Evan Easter.
“As I rounded one of the mobile homes, I observed the same subject (male wearing dark colored shirt) positioned to the North by a driveway. I took a position of cover behind a large tree in one of the front yards. I ordered the suspect to drop the gun. The suspect raised the weapon towards my direction as I began firing rounds at him," wrote another officer, Shane Bachman.
"The suspect was standing in front of a vehicle parked in a driveway. At some point, I recall seeing one of the windows in the vehicle shatter due to the gunfire. After discharging several rounds, the suspect fell to the ground and myself and Officer Phillips responded to the suspect. I holstered my weapon and grabbed ahold of the suspect’s right arm to assist with placing him in handcuffs.”
The autopsy report from the McLean County coroner’s office showed police hit Reiner with seven bullets “involving the head, back, chest, left arm, and left leg.”
Reiner's behavior before the shooting
The largest question is not what happened, but why.
The reports do not resolve that issue. Neighbors had noticed Reiner acting erratically before the shooting. Detective Mathew Badalamenti related an account from a resident of Lambert Drive where the shootings took place that he saw Reiner acting strangely on the porch of his residence around 3:39 that afternoon.
The neighbor “explained that Reiner was standing on the porch and was repeatedly slamming the door to the residence shut. After he would shut the door, he would then pound on the door as if he was trying to get in. He would then open the door, slam it again, and repeat the process,” wrote Badalamenti.
State Police documented an interview of another neighbor by troopers that indicated Reiner was kicking the door to his own home and banging on it while holding a gun even after the killings began.
The resident “also observed an individual (one of the injured people) laying in the yard northwest of his trailer saying, 'help help.' … the resident stated the suspect was walking around like he was in the right and shooting like he was a 'gangster.' … The suspect was waiving his gun around and looked at the interview subject and told him to 'call them, call them, call them.' The resident assumed the suspect was wanting him to call the police, and then lost sight of the suspect,” wrote investigators.
Yet another person raised the possibility that Reiner might have had diminished capacity.
The mobile home park's manager, who is also the father of one of the surviving shooting victims, said “Reiner retired from his job approximately a year ago, and also said he thought Reiner may have ‘dementia.’… I asked (the mobile home park manager) to clarify what he meant … thinking Reiner had dementia, and if he thought Reiner had ever expressed being violent. (He) said he has never seen Reiner do anything or say anything violent. (He) explained when he was working on Reiner's plumbing approximately a month ago Reiner was expressing concern about making sure everything was in good working order so he didn't ‘get kicked out of the park’, however, (he) said he always reassured Reiner this wouldn't happen,” according to the report.
One of the other people Reiner wounded — another mobile home park resident — told investigators he had just gotten out of the shower and was standing at the door when he saw "Ron" standing in the street.
“Ron told him to 'come here, come here.' He walked out towards Ron when Ron said something like, 'You're next.' Ron then pulled up a gun and shot him … After Ron shot at him, he (the victim) took off running around the trailer into a ditch where he saw police,” wrote state trooper Chad Carlson.
The victim told investigators he'd known the recently retired Reiner for about five years, and they had helped each other out. The victim said he believed that since retiring Reiner had "had some trouble coping."
“Ron must have just 'lost it' today,” the victim told investigators while being treated for the gunshot wound at Carle BroMenn Medical Center.
Another neighbor told investigators she was unaware of any issues Reiner had, or anyone who didn't get along with him.
The autopsy by Dr. J. Scott Denton indicated no evidence from Reiner’s brain of “Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases,” “no differential atrophy of the central or temporal lobes," and “no infection, tumor, or remotely healed injury.” The toxicology report likewise showed no drugs in Reiner’s system save for caffeine. Reiner did have severe atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) in his brain and heart.
In September of last year, State’s Attorney Knapp said it wasn't clear why Reiner opened fire.
“We may never know why. I understand that the community is interested in why did this happen,” Knapp said. “That can sometimes be a complex question and unfortunately the only person that truly knows or may ever know is deceased.”
Knapp said Reiner’s family offered few insights.
“They certainly seemed surprised as anyone else that he would act in this manner,” Knapp said last year.
Documenting what happened
A minor thread to emerge from the reports is that there are small inconsistencies between reports written that day and information shown later in reviews of footage from body worn cameras. For instance, weeks later officer Cory Phillips submitted an addition based on the footage.
“The suspect was walking westbound. I engaged my new magazine, leaned out from behind cover, and observed that the male still had his firearm in his hand. At that time, I believed the suspect to still be a deadly threat to officers and citizens around him. I fired my duty weapon directly at the suspect an unknown number of times until the suspect was laying on the ground, on his left side, facing away from officers.
"After reviewing my report and body worn camera footage, this was identified as an error. I engaged my new magazine, leaned out from behind cover, and observed that the male was going down to the ground, on his left side, and facing away from officers. The suspect was no longer moving, but still had the gun. I did not fire additional shots after re-engaging my second magazine."
Such inconsistencies are not unusual. Ashley Farmer, an Illinois State University criminal justice sciences professor, said officers she has interviewed in unrelated matters reported adrenaline and a crisis response to alter the way someone forms memories.
“They get this sort of tunnel vision, especially when they are in a life-threatening situation or a situation in which they have to use deadly force. Everything is tunneled into that moment in time and everything else is blocked out,” said Farmer.
Given that physiological response, the manner of officer reporting in this case was almost guaranteed to produce differences.
“Due to the lethal force used by officers during this incident, I have not reviewed my BWC (body worn camera) prior to writing this narrative. I have written the narrative with as many details as I can confidently recall from memory,” wrote officers in reports following the incident at The Landings.
Farmer is currently working on a paper analyzing police department policies across the country regarding body worn cameras. She said policies often ask officers in routine instances such as traffic stops to review camera footage before writing their reports. In cases of officer-involved shootings, she said it’s common for police agencies to require the reverse.
“They want to get the story as immediately as possible from an officer and get their version of events without being influenced by that video and audio footage. And then they usually will allow them to review the body camera footage at a later time,” said Farmer.
The State Police report indicated Reiner bought the gun he used in the shootings more than two decades ago, in 2000. Reiner’s Firearm Owner ID (FOID) card had expired in 2020.
State’s Attorney Knapp said he found no reference to any red flag requests made in the past about Reiner and no indication that a clear and present danger report was ever completed.