COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Authorities searched a home in the U.S. state of Colorado early Monday, seeking any link between two deadly shooting sprees at Christian religious centers that left both communities baffled and stunned.
Five people, including a gunman, died in the attacks Sunday at a megachurch in Colorado Springs and at the Youth With a Mission missionary center in the Denver suburb of Arvada. Five others were wounded.
"Violent crimes of any sort are tragic enough, but when innocent people are killed in a religious facility or a place of worship, we must voice a collective sense of outrage and demonstrate a renewed commitment to keeping our communities safe," said Gov. Bill Ritter.
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Police in Arvada said they believed the shootings — which occurred 12 hours and about 65 miles apart — were probably linked, though they had nothing conclusive to back up the theory.
"Given the circumstances, I think it is a good possibility that the two are linked," Arvada Deputy Police Chief Gary Creagor told The Associated Press early Monday. "But we have to prove that they are."
At a news conference Sunday, Police Chief Don Wick said that there was "reason to believe" the shootings were connected, though he declined to elaborate.
Early Monday, authorities were searching a home in suburban Englewood, about 15 miles south of Denver, that they said could be related to the Colorado Springs shooting case. Authorities could be seen coming and going from the home, and at one point searching the bushes in front.
The violence began about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, when a man opened fire at the Youth With a Mission office after he had been denied a request to spend the night there. Witnesses told police that the gunman was a 20-year-old white male, wearing a dark jacket and skull cap, who had a handgun. The two dead victims at the missionary center were identified as Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24.
More than 12 hours later, at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, a gunman with a high-powered rifle entered the church's main foyer and opened fire, Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers said.
One church member was killed, and another who was badly wounded died later Sunday at Penrose Community Hospital in Colorado Springs, said hospital spokeswoman Amy Sufak. Their identities were not released.
The gunman was killed by a member of the church's armed security staff before police arrived, Myers said. Officers also found several smoke-generating devices on the church campus; their intended purpose was not clear.
About 7,000 people were on the church campus at the time of the shooting, said Senior Pastor Brady Boyd said. Security had been beefed up after the shootings hours earlier in Arvada, he said.
Ashley Gibbs was getting into a car with David Harris when they heard the gunshots. Harris said he saw the gunman, and it looked like he knew how to handle a weapon.
"I was in the military for about three years, and the way he was holding the rifle looked just like the way we were taught to when I was in the military," he told NBC's "Today" show on Monday.
They stayed in the vehicle and prayed for the gunman.
"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 about 10,000 members, 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, then the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, admitted committing undisclosed "sexual immorality."
Darv Smith, director of a Youth With a Mission center in Boulder, said people ranging from their late teens to their 70s undergo a 12-week course that prepares them to be missionaries. He said the center trains about 300 people a year.
Paul Filidis, a Colorado Springs-based spokesman with Youth With a Mission, said staffers are usually former missionaries themselves and that the "mercy ministries" performed by trainees include orphanage work.
Youth With a Mission was started in 1960 and now has 1,100 locations with 16,000 full-time staff, Smith said. The Arvada center was founded in 1984.
The Colorado shootings came only days after a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a popular mall in Omaha, Nebraska, killing eight people and himself.