Tiffany Johnson, 26, of Minnesota, was one of two Youth With A Mission staff members shot and killed by an attacker in Arvada, Colo.
DENVER – A gunman who reportedly had been thrown out of an evangelical Youth With A Mission missionary training program in Arvada, Colo., sent hate mail to its leaders then launched a rampage in which he shot and killed four people at two Christian centers yesterday before being stopped by a volunteer church security guard, authorities said.
The gunman, identified as Matthew Murray, 24, of Englewood, Colo., had been dismissed from the YWAM program several years ago, according to papers authorities filed in court today, the Associated Press said.
He launched his attack in the early hours yesterday morning in Arvada, finishing in the afternoon after volunteer Jeanne Assam, a member at New Life Church, confronted him in an entrance hallway and shot him when he refused to follow orders, according to Colorado Springs police chief Richard Myers.
“It appears that the suspect had been kicked out of the program … and during the past few weeks had sent different forms of hate mail to the program and-or its director,” the AP said police reported.
YWAM issued a statement confirming Murray was “briefly” a student at the Arvada training center but did not complete the program.
“Murray did not complete the lecture phase of his Discipleship Training School, nor did he participate in the field assignment,” the organization said. “The program directors felt that issues with his health made it inappropriate for him to do so.”
The organization also confirmed that the two sisters killed in Colorado Springs “were involved with a summer outreach organized by New Life Church and a ministry of YWAM which rents office space in the New Life campus.
“An older sister from the … family participated in a YWAM Discipleship Training Program at a center in Colorado Springs,” the organization confirmed.
Colorado Springs Police Sgt. Jeff Jenson described how police found smoke canisters that had been activated, apparently by the attacker, at several entrances to the megachurch’s complex.
Murray then entered through another entrance, firing his weapon as he came through the doors, police said. Inside, Assam saw him enter, took cover and waited for him to get closer, then stepped out and confronted him.
Assam said she was praying.
“Because of the firepower [he had] versus what I had, I did not run away. I did not think for a minute to run. I was given the assignment to end this before it got too much worse,” she said. “I just said, Holy Spirit be with me. My hands weren’t even shaking.”
Assam said he didn’t follow her orders, so she fired. Police would not allow her to reveal further details, because of their continuing investigation.
Myers said the officers arriving minutes later were challenged because of the multiple reports of gunfire and multiple points of origin for the smoke.
In Colorado Springs, the attack started in the parking lot, where Stephanie Works, 18, and Rachel Works, 16, were shot and killed, police said. Their father, David Works, 51, was reported hospitalized with gunshot wounds in his abdomen and groin, while Judy Purcell, 40, was wounded in her shoulder, and Larry Bourbannais, 59, was wounded in his arm. They both were treated and released.
New Life Church Pastor Brady Boyd said Assam deserves credit for preventing what could have been a much larger tragedy.
“She probably saved over 100 lives. He had enough ammunition on him to do a lot of damage,” the pastor said.
Police confirmed the attacker’s backpack contained clips that could have held more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition for the weapon he carried, along with two handguns, although an inventory still was being done.
A report at Homeland Security noted a “law enforcement source” had reported the attacker “professed to ‘hate all Christians,’ and reportedly left a note or letter that he intended to murder as many Christians as possible.”
The website said the law enforcement source suggested Murray also had incendiary devices.
Boyd said Assam had been stationed in the “rotunda” of the complex because of the shootings about 12 hours earlier at the Arvada YWAM complex.
Philip Crouse, 24, from Alaska, was killed by an armed attacker while responding to a request for help by a lone individual at the Arvada, Colo., base of Youth With A Mission
In Arvada, director Peter Warren reported a Christmas banquet had been
held Saturday evening, and the doors to the complex had been locked about midnight. Thirty minutes later, a man appeared, apparently seeking a place to stay.
Among those responding were Tiffany Johnson, 26, of Minnesota, who directed hospitality services for the ministry organization in Arvada, and Philip Crouse, 24, of Alaska.
Authorities report that the man apparently was told he could not stay in the staff residence, and he opened fire, killing Johnson and Crouse, and injuring Charlie Blanch, 22, and Dan Griebenow, 24.
All four were staff members at the facility that trains hundreds of people each year for mission trips ranging from delivering the Gospel message in foreign nations to repairing homes in communities damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Following a tip to police, authorities searched the home in Englewood where Murray lived with his parents and 21-year-old brother. It’s roughly halfway between the Arvada missionary training school and the church in Colorado Springs.
No details were released about what authorities found in their hours of searching.
In Colorado Springs, Boyd said the security had been enhanced just before the worship services, based on security officers’ concerns about the shooting in Arvada.
Assam had prior law enforcement experience and was a volunteer. He said this particular guard normally would have been making sure of his own safety but instead had been assigned the entrance location.
“I just was expecting for the next gunshot to be coming through my car,” Jessie Gingrich told ABC.
She had just left the church and also was in the parking lot when the shooting began. She reported seeing the gunman get a rifle from his trunk and open fire on a van filled with people.
Boyd said the church community was praying for the victims and their families, as well as the family of the shooter.
“He has a mom and dad. We’re praying for them,” he said.
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” called it a symptom of the times.
In Colorado Springs, church attendees had been evacuated to “holding” areas the church had set up earlier in a contingency plan for any sort of disaster.
In Arvada, the gunman had fled on foot, and police lost his trail, despite new-fallen snow, when his tracks mixed with others. The several dozen people in the residence hall were taken to another YWAM facility in the foothills near Golden, officials said.
New Life Church was launched by former Pastor Ted Haggard, who shepherded its grown into megachurch. Haggard left the church in 2006 in a scandal that erupted when a man claimed to have had a long-term relationship with Haggard.
Youth With A Mission was launched by Loren and Darlene Cunningham in 1960 and originally focused on giving youth an opportunity to do short-term mission work. It now works with any age volunteer in programs that focus on evangelism, training and mercy ministry. It operates in more than 1,000 locations in the U.S. and 148 other nations with a staff of nearly 16,000.