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Colorado Church Gunman Had Grudge Against Christian Group, Cops Say

The gunman believed to have killed four people in a pair of shooting sprees at a megachurch in Colorado Springs and a missionary training school near Denver had been thrown out of the missionary school a few years ago and had been sending it hate mail, police said in court papers Monday.

The gunman was identified as Matthew Murray, 24, who was home-schooled in what a friend said was a deeply religious Christian household. Murray's father is a neurologist and a leading multiple-sclerosis researcher.

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Five people — including Murray — were killed, and five others wounded Sunday in the two eruptions of violence 12 hours and 65 miles apart. Police said Monday that forensic evidence found at both crime scenes linked both shootings to Murray.

The first attack took place at Youth With a Mission, a training center for missionaries in the Denver suburb of Arvada; the other occurred at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, where Murray was shot by a security guard, though investigators said he may have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"Through both investigations it has been determined that most likely the suspect in both shootings are one in the same," police said in court papers.

Colorado Springs police said the "common denominator in both locations" was Youth With a Mission. The training center maintains an office at the 10,000-member New Life Church.

"It appears that the suspect had been kicked out of the program three years prior and during the past few weeks had sent different forms of hate mail to the program and-or its director," police said.

Murray's relatives said they were grief-stricken and baffled.

"Our family cannot express the magnitude of our grief for the victims and families of this tragedy. On our behalf of our family, and our son, we ask for forgiveness. We cannot understand why this has happened," they said in a statement read by the gunman's uncle, Phil Abeyta, who fought back tears.

In a statement, the training center said health problems kept Murray from finishing the program. It did not elaborate. Murray did not complete the lecture phase or a field assignment as part of a 12-week program, Youth With a Mission said.

"The program directors felt that issues with his health made it inappropriate for him to" finish, it said.

Police gave no immediate details on the hate mail. And the training center said that Murray left in 2002 — five years ago, not three — and that no one there can recall any visits or other communication from him since then.

Earlier Monday, a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said it appeared Murray "hated Christians."

Investigators have not said whether Murray singled out his victims. But the two people killed at the church — sisters Stephanie and Rachael Works, ages 18 and 16 — frequented the training center, their uncle Mark Schaepe of Lincoln, Neb., told The Gazette of Colorado Springs.

Authorities searched the Murray house on a quiet street in Englewood on Monday for guns, ammunition and computers. No one was home when a reporter visited the split-level brick home early Monday. Murray's father, Ronald S. Murray, is chief executive of the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center in Englewood.

Matthew Murray lived there along with a brother, Christopher, 21, a student at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

A neighbor, Cody Askeland, 19, said the brothers were home-schooled, describing the whole family as "very, very religious."

Christopher studied for a semester at Colorado Christian University before transferring to Oral Roberts, said Ronald Rex, dean of admissions and marketing at Colorado Christian. He said Matthew Murray had been in contact with school officials this summer about attending the school but decided he wasn't interested because he thought the school was too expensive.

Police said Murray's only previous brush with the law was a traffic ticket earlier this year.

Senior Pastor Brady Boyd of New Life Church said the gunman had no connection to the church. "We don't know this shooter," Boyd said. "He showed up on our property yesterday with a gun with the intention of hurting people, and he did."

The gunman opened fire at 12:30 a.m. at the Youth With a Mission center. Witnesses said the man asked to spend the night there and opened fire with a handgun when he was turned down. They described him as a young man, perhaps 20, in a dark jacket and cap.

Later, at New Life Church, a gunman wearing a trench coat and carrying a high-powered rifle opened fire in the parking lot and later walked into the church as a service was letting out.

Jeanne Assam, a church member who volunteers as a security guard, shot Murray, who was found with a rifle and two handguns, police said.

Assam said she believes God gave her the strength to confront Murray, keeping her calm and focused.

"It seemed like it was me, the gunman and God," she said at a news conference.

The pastor credited her with preventing more bloodshed.

"There could have been a great loss of life yesterday, and she probably saved over 100 lives."

Boyd said the gunman had a lot of ammunition and estimated that 40 rounds had been fired inside the church, leaving what looked like a "war scene."

About 7,000 people were in and around the church the time of the shooting, Boyd said. Security had been beefed up after the shootings hours earlier in Arvada, he said. The church had a total of 15 to 20 volunteer security officers inside at the time of the attack, he said.

Some members of the congregation reacted with compassion and forgiveness, in keeping with their faith.

Ashley Gibbs was getting into a car with David Harris when they heard the gunshots. They stayed in the vehicle.

"It was obvious that he was in some sort of pain and going through a lot," Gibbs told NBC's "Today" show. "I just prayed God would bring him peace."

New Life, with a largely upper middle-class membership, was founded by the Rev. Ted Haggard, who was dismissed last year after a former male prostitute alleged he had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with him. Haggard admitted committing unspecified "sexual immorality."

The two people killed at the missionary center were identified as Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24.

Johnson, who grew up in Chisholm, Minn., loved working with children and wanted to see the world, said family friend Carla Macynski.

"Tiffany was a well-liked, easygoing 26-year-old. She was friendly, adventurous and a definite leader," Macynski said as she choked back tears. Johnson had traveled to Egypt, Libya and South Africa with the missionary group.

Crouse, of Alaska, was a former skinhead who went through a dramatic spiritual conversion at 18. He had helped build a foster home at a Crow Indian reservation in Montana, said Ronny Morris, who works with a Denver chapter of the mission.

"Whenever somebody asks me to give a specific situation where a kid's life has been changed or transformed, I always think of Phil, because he had such a radical transformation of life," said pastor Zach Chandler in Anchorage, Alaska.

Youth With a Mission was started in 1960 and has 1,100 locations with 16,000 full-time staff, said Darv Smith, director of a Youth With a Mission center in Boulder.

The Colorado shootings came days after a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a busy department store in Omaha, Neb., killing eight people and himself.