On the evening after Christmas, the family gathered to eat some leftover pie.
Then someone started shooting.
London Dalton, just 6 years old, was upstairs in her grandparents’ home near 37th and Spaulding Streets. John and Jean Dalton were on the main level with London’s 18-year-old sister, Leonna Dalton-Phillip.
At some point during the shooting, London ran downstairs and hid under a couch.
But she caught a glimpse of the shooter.
“Uncle JJ,” the girl told a relative who lives nearby and who soon afterward called 911.
Relatives told police that John Dalton Jr., the son of John and Jean Dalton, was widely known as “Uncle JJ.”
A judge ruled Wednesday that Dalton, 46, will stand trial on three counts of first-degree murder and four weapon charges in the deaths of John and Jean Dalton and Leonna Dalton-Phillip. Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said his office still is looking at evidence to decide whether to pursue the death penalty.
Kleine said having London as a witness benefits the case, no matter her age.
“It’s very important that we have a witness who observed (the shooting). I don’t think it poses a roadblock as far as their ability to testify and relate what they saw,” Kleine said. “All we do is ask for the truth, and certainly anytime you have a young person testifying, it’s difficult to put them through the process. But obviously, we have to have the truth.”
It’s unclear whether the shooter saw London or knew she was in the house.
Wednesday, Detective Sherry King described the graphic scene in John and Jean Dalton’s house.
Jean Dalton, 65, was lying on the floor of the front room, to the left of the front door. She had been shot four times. A woman’s purse, a cellphone and a set of keys were strewn across a hallway to the master bedroom, where John Dalton Sr., 70, lay dead on the floor with five gunshot wounds. In the bedroom closet was Leonna, shot twice.
Eleven shell casings were found at the home, but ballistics results have not been completed to determine whether they were fired from the same gun. A weapon has not been located.
The relative who lives near the Daltons’ house told police she was heading to their home for pie when she heard a gunshot and the chain-link fence moving. She noticed broken glass near the front door of the home, went inside and found London, who was hysterical.
As the woman took London back to her home, she saw a dark-colored SUV drive east on Spaulding, away from the Daltons’ home, King testified. The woman and another relative called 911. London can be heard on the 911 recording identifying “Uncle JJ” as the shooter, King said.
Officers quickly went to John Dalton Jr.’s house near 34th and Ruggles Streets, but Dalton never returned home. He also didn’t show up for work at Greater Omaha Packing Co. the next day.
Authorities issued a warrant for Dalton, who was arrested the next day in Jackson, Tennessee. He had no cellphone or luggage with him. Dalton was interviewed by authorities in Tennessee, but King did not share details of that conversation.
About a dozen relatives attended Wednesday’s hearing. They declined to comment afterward.
Dalton served more than 11 years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter in the 1998 fatal shooting of his wife, Shannon Dalton, at their Ruggles Street home. The couple’s three daughters were at the house during the shooting. At the time of the shooting, the oldest girl was the same age as London is now.
Kleine said investigators still are working the latest case and he couldn’t offer details about the motive behind the shooting. He said he feels for the family.
“Obviously, they’re very sad; it’s very emotional for them,” Kleine said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through here, the suffering they’ve gone through.”