Colorado police seek links in shootings as another victim dies

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (CNN) — Police in two Colorado cities were looking for possible connections between deadly attacks on worshippers at a Colorado Springs megachurch and on a Christian missionary center in suburban Denver.

The two shootings have left four victims dead and six wounded, authorities said. The gunman at the megachurch also died.

Arvada Police Chief Don Wick said there is reason to believe the shootings are related, although he did not elaborate.

Overnight, Arvada police were also helping to execute a search warrant obtained by Colorado Springs police at an address in Englewood, another Denver suburb, according to Arvada Police spokeswoman Susan Medina.

The black-clad gunman who attacked worshippers at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, initially killing one and wounding four, was killed by “a courageous security staff member,” Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers said.

One of the wounded died late Sunday, according to a Penrose-St. Francis Hospital spokeswoman Amy Sufak.

“The suspect was confronted by a security guard,” Myers said at a news conference late Sunday. “She shot the suspect, and the suspect subsequently died at the scene.”

Detectives in the Denver suburb of Arvada were “working closely” with their counterparts in Colorado Springs to determine whether the attack on New Life Church was related to the shootings that left two staffers dead and two wounded at a live-in training center for Christian missionaries about 12 hours earlier, Wick told reporters.

Asked by reporters if the shootings were related, Wick said: “Yes, there is a reason to believe that, although this is active and I can’t release that.”

“Until we have evidence which conclusively ties these two events together, Arvada police will continue to follow all leads,” Wick also said.

At his late Sunday news conference, Myers said authorities from the two communities were cooperating in their investigations.

“We are working directly with the Arvada Police Department to explore if there is any possible link to the incident that they had early this morning,” Myers said. “At this time, we do not have any information that would indicate that.”

The identity of the man who opened fire at New Life Church had not been determined Sunday evening, Colorado Springs police spokesman Lt. Fletcher Howard said.

But witnesses’ accounts of a black-clad gunman shared some elements with the description issued by Arvada police after the slayings in their town, about 80 miles north of Colorado Springs.

Brady Boyd, the senior pastor at New Life Church, said leaders of the non-denominational, evangelical congregation of more than 10,000 had beefed up security after the Arvada attacks.

“Many lives were saved because of the quick action of some committed volunteers at our church,” Boyd said. He said about 7,000 people were at the church, which had just completed a late-morning service, when the shooting took place shortly after 1 p.m.

In the earlier shooting, Arvada police said a dark-jacketed man with a beard, glasses and skullcap entered Youth With a Mission about 12:30 a.m. Sunday (2:30 a.m. ET) and opened fire after a dispute with a staff member about whether he would be allowed to stay the night there.

“The staff member contacted other staff members to help remove the suspect from the residence,” Wick said. “Upon leaving the facility, the suspect turned and fired a handgun numerous times, striking four victims.”

Youth With a Mission staff members Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, died in surgery after the shooting, the group’s co-founder, Peter Warren, told CNN.

He said they were cleaning up from a Saturday night Christmas banquet when the attack occurred.

The gunman had asked for housing for the night, Warren said, and opened fire when the missionaries refused. Another staff member, 24-year-old Dan Griebenow, was in critical condition with a bullet in his neck, and a second survivor, Charlie Blanch, was shot in the legs, the group said on its Web site.

Investigators tried to track the gunman through fresh snow with the help of dogs, but lost his trail in a heavily walked area, Deputy Chief Gary Creager told CNN.

“Obviously, two shootings at two faith-based locations is very concerning to both us and Colorado Springs.” Creager said.

Youth With a Mission was founded in 1960, and operates in more than 1,000 locations in 149 countries, according to its Web site. The Arvada center is home to dozens of people from around the world training as Christian missionaries.

“These kids were like our kids, you know?” Warren told CNN affiliate KUSA. “It’s just such a tragedy.”

Arvada is about 80 miles north of Colorado Springs, where the second shooting took place shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday. Ashley Gibbs, a New Life member, said she heard five shots in quick succession as she and her boyfriend headed for their car after a late-morning service. A short time later, she heard several more shots — and saw one hit the snow about 100 feet away from her car.

“I saw the guy for just a second,” she said. “He was wearing a big, black trenchcoat and carrying a big gun.”

Gibbs said she hadn’t heard about the shootings in Arvada, and said she was “completely shocked” by the sound of gunfire.

“I never thought that anything like this would ever happen,” she said. “That’s why when I heard the gunshots, I didn’t think they were gunshots.”

Gibbs description of the man — in his early to mid-20s, dressed in a dark coat — sounded similar to the description of the man behind the Arvada killings.

But she could not recall any facial hair, as survivors of the attack on the missionary center described. And she said she did not know what kind of weapon he carried, but said it was “a big one — you had to hold it with two hands.”

When it was over, Myers said, the gunman and one church member were dead on New Life’s grounds. The wounded were taken to Penrose-St. Francis Hospital, where one remained hospitalized in fair condition late Sunday, according to a hospital representative.

Myers said authorities had wrapped up their investigation of “several suspicious devices” the man left behind.

“The suspicious devices that were located turn out not to be explosive in nature, but appear to be smoke-generating devices,” he said late Sunday.

The non-denominational New Life Church claims a membership of more than 10,000. It was founded by the Rev. Ted Haggard, an evangelical Christian leader ousted in 2006 after allegations that he had been a client of a male prostitute from whom he had purchased drugs.

After his firing, Haggard admitted to undisclosed “sexual immorality” and called himself “a deceiver and a liar” in a letter to the congregation.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday December 10, 2007.
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