Church killer waited at New Life, made phone calls before shootings

Matthew J. Murray waited near New Life Church for nearly an hour before shooting churchgoers in the parking lot after late-morning services Dec. 9, according to a report from Arvada police released Thursday.

While he waited, the 24-year-old talked on his cell phone with an acquaintance from his days at Youth With a Mission in Arvada, the New Life-related missionary program he had been asked to leave after several episodes involving strange behavior in 2002.

Murray feigned surprise when the woman brought up the fatal shootings at the ministry that day, and ended the 30-minute conversation abruptly when she blamed the gunman and not, as he said, a “crazy society.”

“I’m going to have to let you go,” Murray told Jacinda Treadway. “I’m going to go to church.”

Twenty-five minutes later, Murray began firing at a family getting into their van, killing two teenage sisters and wounding three other people.

The new details were contained in more than 400 pages of investigative documents released by the Arvada Police Department, gathering eyewitness accounts, 911 tapes and photographs related to Murray’s first violent rampage, in which he killed two people at a mission center in suburban Denver 12 hours before the New Life shooting.

Murray killed Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, before an an exterior door closed, locking the gunman outside, the report revealed. It’s unclear how that happened, police said, but witnesses saw Murray trying to get back inside before fleeing.

Murray spent the night with his parents in Englewood, then drove to Colorado Springs.

Some of Murray’s acquaintances were quick to suspect his involvement in Arvada, including Ron Morris, who phoned police that morning to report that Murray had sent him “harassing e-mails,” was hostile to Christians and once wore the same dark clothing described by witnesses.

Murray had been a member of Kings Kids, a youth-oriented version of the Youth With a Mission program run by Morris, before he was old enough to enroll in YWAM.

Police began hunting for Murray after getting Morris’ tip at 10 a.m. They cleared another man with a similar name that morning, and showed a driver’s license photo of the real killer to a witness from the Arvada shooting. The witness failed to pick Murray’s photograph from a lineup.

Cell phone records led police to several people who spoke with Murray before and after the shootings in Arvada, including an older cousin in California.

Gabe LaPoint, 30, told police he was so worried by his cousin’s tone and manner during their phone conversations that he called Murray’s mother, Loretta Murray, early Dec. 9 and later in the morning to warn that her son could be suicidal. Murray told him he was being sought by police, LaPoint said, but claimed it was for pushing a waitress during a quarrel in an Applebee’s restaurant.

Murray’s father, Ronald Murray, decided to cut short a trip to Arizona to be with his son. He was to arrive at Denver International Airport that afternoon.

Treadway, the last person to speak with Murray, “thought for sure it was Matthew” who committed the murders after learning about them from a friend’s text messages. She phoned police to alert them of her suspicions but hung up rather than leave a message on a tip line, concerned that she wouldn’t be able to explain her fears.

Instead, the woman asked her sister and some friends to come over for support and called Murray, deciding not to confront him about the shootings but rather to “be there for him as a friend,” and then call police if Murray admitted responsibility for the attacks.

When she brought up the attacks in that final call, Murray didn’t seem bothered by the news and repeatedly asked whether there were suspects, police said. He called her a “cool girl” and said he was going to church before hanging up.

A cell phone company determined Murray arrived in Colorado Springs shortly after 11 a.m. and was somewhere near the church at 11025 Voyager Parkway by 12:13 p.m. The shootings happened at 1:10 p.m., exactly 25 minutes after his phone conversation with Treadway.

Several Colorado Springs police officers were at the church providing extra security and directing traffic, but left minutes before Murray began shooting.

Sisters Stephanie and Rachel Works were killed before Murray was stopped by New Life volunteer security guard Jeanne Assam. Wounded, Murray killed himself with a 9 mm pistol.

A search of Murray’s home computer found downloads about school shootings, including information about the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in suburban Denver and last April’s shootings at Virginia Tech.

Police said he also had more than 500,000 images of adult, child and homosexual pornography on his computer, according to police reports released today.

The reports also detail how Murray became especially cynical toward his religion and Christian upbringing after New Life Church pastor Ted Haggard was accused of having sex with a male prostitute.

The Rocky Mountain News contributed to this report.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday March 28, 2008.
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