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Police: Witness to murder-suicide involving Navy officer struck gunman with SUV

Claire VanLandingham appeared in a video that encouraged viewers to support a Take Back the Night march against domestic violence and sexual abuse.

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By MATTHEW WALBERG | Chicago Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 17, 2018

CHICAGO — A co-worker of Navy officer Claire VanLandingham tried to run down her ex-boyfriend after he fatally shot her this month in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Ill. — but the gunman killed himself before he was struck by the co-worker’s vehicle, police said Wednesday.

The new information comes in the wake of an autopsy report by the Lake County coroner’s office, which determined that the gunman, Ryan Zike, 33, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to head and only sustained minor injuries from being struck by the vehicle.

About 6:20 a.m. on Jan. 3, a 37-year-old man who is in the Navy and worked with VanLandingham, pulled into the parking lot of her apartment complex in the 600 block of North Western Avenue to pick her up for work, according to a news release from the Lake Forest Police Department.

The witness, who lives in Highland Park, parked in a position that the headlights of his SUV illuminated Zike and VanLandingham as they spoke to each other outside the building, according to a new release from the Lake Forest Police Department. Zike then shot VanLandingham multiple times with a handgun, authorities said.

“The witness told investigators he felt Zike was going to turn the gun on him, and made the decision to ram the man with his vehicle to avoid being shot himself,” the release stated. “After striking Zike, the witness attempted to administer first-aid on VanLandingham. He also summoned help by running to a nearby business and asking the staff and patrons to dial 911.”

Lake Forest Deputy Police Chief Robert Copeland said in an interview Wednesday that the witness was just a few car lengths away and Zike bounced off the front of his vehicle.

“I thank God he was there,” Copeland said. “If he hadn’t been, it would have been potentially much worse for the police investigation.”

Copeland said people usually “fight, flight or freeze” in those situations, but he believes the witness fought because of a military background.

“Those are the three things the animal brain tells you what to do,” Copeland said. “He just saw a horrible crime committed against his friend. He defended himself.”

Authorities said they were not releasing the name of the witness. Copeland said the witness “was having a hard time" with the experience.

Zike and VanLandingham had dated until they broke up last fall. The two met in Louisville, where he was a recreation supervisor for Louisville’s parks and recreation department and she was a student at the University of Louisville.

VanLandingham, a lieutenant in the Navy, graduated last year with her dental degree and took a position at Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, where she provided dental care to recruits at nearby Naval Station Great Lakes. Zike joined her in Lake Forest, where they shared an apartment before they broke up in October and he returned to Louisville to be with his family.

On Jan. 2, Zike traveled to Illinois and stayed overnight at an unknown location before he confronted VanLandingham the next morning, police said in the news release. He had a valid Kentucky concealed carry gun permit and was carrying a second gun and a knife in addition to the gun he used to shoot the victim, authorities said.

While VanLandingham was a dental student at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, she appeared in a video supporting a Take Back the Night march against domestic violence and sexual abuse.

In the video, VanLandingham spoke out against the prevalence of domestic violence, saying, “In a society so violent, have you ever been afraid to walk alone at night? We don’t think you should have to.”

“We seek to create healthier relationships and safe communities,” she said. “To our neighbors in Louisville, we invite you to join us … for our Take Back the Night march and rally where we will rise up as a community and say that violence against anyone is unacceptable.”

Frank Abderholden of the Lake County News-Sun contributed.

mwalberg@chicagotribune.com

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