They were loving grandparents who seemingly never met a stranger. She was a successful student and the apple of her dad’s eye.
John and Jean Dalton and their granddaughter, Leonna Dalton-Phillip, were being remembered Wednesday for all the good things they brought to the world. The three were slain Tuesday in the Daltons’ home.
The Daltons’ own son, who previously spent time in prison for killing his wife, was arrested Wednesday on a first-degree murder warrant. John Dalton Jr., 46, was apprehended outside Jackson, Tennessee, and was being held in the Madison County Jail in that state Wednesday night.
Police have not described a motive.
Claude Phillip said he just saw Leonna, his oldest daughter, over the holiday. A Des Moines resident, Phillip came to Omaha for the holiday and spent time in the Dalton home on Christmas Eve.
“They loved everybody,” Phillip said. “They even treated my other kids like they were their own grandkids.”
The violence appears to have unfolded quickly, Phillip said.
Dalton-Phillip’s car was still running outside her maternal grandparents’ home at 3912 N. 37th St. when police arrived to investigate the shooting Tuesday night. The 18-year-old Burke High senior had gone to the house to pick up her younger sister, Phillip said.
“Leonna was stopping by after work to pick up her sister and get a plate of food from her grandmother,” Phillip said Wednesday. “Her car was still running. That’s how fast all this happened.”
The younger sister, London Dalton, ran to a neighbor’s house about 7:30 p.m. and said, “They shot my family.”
Police found John W. Dalton Sr., 70, his wife, Jean, 65, and Leonna Dalton-Phillip all dead inside the home. Dalton-Phillip was Dalton Jr.’s niece.
Leonna had a bright future, her father said. She received straight A’s and had scholarship offers for college.
“She thought she might want to go to school in California,” he said. “We were just investigating that.”
Phillip described his daughter as a very loving person who worked at the Target store at Sorensen Park Plaza.
“She was so smart and bright,” he said. “Last April or May, she won an essay contest on the Holocaust. There were 300 entries, and hers was the best one.”
Leonna lived with her mother, Jalisa Dalton, a daughter of John and Jean Dalton. In addition to her sister London, Leonna is survived by three brothers and four sisters, Phillip said.
“Jalisa is just in shock,” he said. “We all are. I can’t believe this happened.”
Even though Phillip and Jalisa Dalton were no longer together, Phillip said John and Jean Dalton always welcomed him into their home. John Dalton Sr. was a retired packinghouse worker and his wife retired from Lozier Store Fixtures last spring.
John Dalton Jr. was pulled over Wednesday afternoon on Interstate 40 in Jackson, Tennessee.
Radio dispatch traffic indicates that Dalton was eastbound in a Black GMC Terrain SUV.
A trooper who was tracking him radioed dispatchers: “He’s weaving in and out of traffic. I think he’s going to exit the first chance he gets … Looks like there is only one occupant in the vehicle.”
After more troopers were in place, they pulled Dalton over about 5 miles farther down the road, on the northeast side of Jackson.
Jackson is about 130 miles west of Nashville, where Dalton was captured in a traffic stop after killing his wife in Omaha in 1998. Following that arrest, he was held without bail because he was considered a flight risk.
“Given the chance, he’d run again,” Jennie Dugan-Hinrichs, a deputy Douglas County attorney, told a judge.
John Dalton Jr. served more than 11 years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter in the death of his wife, Shannon Dalton.
“He lived just a couple blocks away, but I don’t think (his parents) saw him a lot,” Phillip said. “Jean would try to talk to him, but she said he was never the same after he got out of prison.”
On Wednesday, a woman who came out of the Daltons’ home said the family is “still grieving and trying to deal with what happened.” She also said that more family members are coming into town.
A First Responders Prayer Walk has been scheduled for 5:15 p.m. today outside the family’s home at 3912 N. 37th St..
The Omaha Public Schools put out a statement after the news of Dalton-Phillip’s death.
“We extend our deepest, heartfelt sympathy to the family,” it said. Counselors were available at Burke High on Wednesday afternoon, the district said.
In the 1998 killing of his 22-year-old wife, Dalton initially faced a second-degree murder charge but later pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The couple had been married about five years.
The couple’s three daughters, who were 6, 5 and 3 at the time, were at their home at 3489 Ruggles St.. They heard, but did not see, the shooting.
After the death of their mother, the children were put in the care of Jean Dalton, and she had custody of them until they became adults.
The oldest daughter, Brittiney Faison, wrote heartfelt tributes to her grandparents and cousin on social media.
“This can’t be,” she posted above photos of them smiling. She recalled the talks they had and her cousin imploring her to come over.
“I wish I said yes to her every time” she wrote.
World-Herald staff writers Alia Conley and Andrew J. Nelson contributed to this report.