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Police defend 911 dispatcher before Colorado Springs gunman's rampage; names released of officers involved in shootout

November 4, 2015 Updated: November 5, 2015 at 6:30 am
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photo - Police investigate the scene at Prospect Street near Platte Avenue where a shooting rampage that left three dead began Saturday morning, Oct. 31, 2015, in Colorado Springs. The shooting ended several blocks away at Wahsatch and Platte avenues where police exchanged gun fire, killing the suspected shooter. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Police investigate the scene at Prospect Street near Platte Avenue where a shooting rampage that left three dead began Saturday morning, Oct. 31, 2015, in Colorado Springs. The shooting ended several blocks away at Wahsatch and Platte avenues where police exchanged gun fire, killing the suspected shooter. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Noah Harpham armed himself Halloween morning with an AR-15 rifle and two handguns he legally purchased six years ago.

He proceeded on a bloody rampage that ended with a single, fatal bullet from one of four Colorado Springs police officers who opened fire on him.

In the minutes before that carnage began, his frightened neighbor called police and watched Harpham openly tote the rifle around Prospect Street.

"I'm scared to death," she said.

The most detailed accounting of the Halloween morning shootings unfolded Wednesday with the release of two 911 recordings, snippets of federal gun records and statements from police and sheriff's investigators.

It came as the Colorado Springs Police Department defended a dispatcher's handling of the call amid national scrutiny from social media and numerous publications about the department's initial response.

Specifically, they questioned a dispatcher's reference during that 911 call to a Colorado law allowing people to openly carry guns in public.

The call by Harpham's neighbor Saturday morning offered the first indication that something was wrong. It arrived 10 minutes before Harpham, 33, kicked off a half-mile shooting spree by gunning down a passing bicyclist, Army veteran Andrew Alan Myers, 35.

As police tried to find the active shooter, Harpham shot dead two other people at a home for women recovering from alcoholism and drug abuse. The victims, Christy Galella, 34, and Jennifer Vasquez, 42, had recently turned their lives around at the Platte House.

Two veteran officers and two rookies drove up as Harpham stood in the center median of Wahsatch Avenue - clutching his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in one hand and his pistol in the other, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said.

He also carried a .357 revolver, all three of which he bought in 2009 at a single licensed dealer in Colorado Springs, said Lisa Meiman, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokeswoman.

None of the guns had previously been used in a crime, according to an agency database.

Ignoring the officers' orders, Harpham opened fire - hitting one cruiser's windshield and making his way toward the nearby Wendy's restaurant as all four officers shot back, sheriff's investigators found.

One of them dropped Harpham, and the gunman was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Two of the officers were seasoned veterans. R. Scott Hallas has spent 14 years with the department, and Edward Crofoot has been there seven years.

They were training the other two officers - Charles "Chip" Surratt and Matthew Anderson - who were hired in March and were riding along as part of their field training.

All four officers were placed on routine paid administrative leave following the shooting, and the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office is reviewing the case to determine if they were justified using deadly force.

Police Chief Pete Carey commended the call takers, responding officers and emergency crews, saying in a statement that "they disregarded their own safety in order to safeguard the community at great personal risk."

Despite those new details, several questions went unanswered, including exactly when officers arrived on scene. And one central mystery remains: Why Harpham started the rampage.

On Wednesday, the Police Department instead focused on defending itself from nationwide scrutiny that it inappropriately handled that first call at 8:45 a.m. Saturday.

The Police Department released tapes that it previously denied to The Gazette, and said in Wednesday's release the dispatcher "responded in accordance with both the Colorado Springs Police Department policy and national protocols."

The tapes depict the neighbor, Naomi Bettis, first calling police at 8:45 a.m. Saturday and reporting a man walking around with a rifle and gas cans.

"I don't know if it's a fake gun, BB gun," she said. "But it looks pretty scary."

Bettis added that "It may be the guy who lives upstairs because he ran right up there, but he still shouldn't be holding that gun."

"Well, it is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it," the 911 dispatcher said. "But of course, having those gas cans, it does seem pretty suspicious. So we're going to keep the call going for that."

The call was initially listed as priority three on a scale of one to six - one being the most serious.

A minute into the call, after talking about the situation with the caller, the dispatcher upgraded the call to priority two, and called it a possible burglary in progress.

No officers were available at that time, police said.

When one officer asked for a new assignment at 8:47 a.m., he was directed to an in-progress disturbance at a senior residential facility. That call "represented a threat to human life," unlike the call on Prospect Street, police said.

Meanwhile, Bettis watched Harpham scurry in and out of his house. She said she felt no immediate danger. But she lamented what she saw.

"I just hope it's not as bad as it is," Bettis said.

"No, I understand," the 911 dispatcher said. "And again, we'd rather be proactive and make sure everything's OK than to just assume everything is all right and have something go wrong.

"So you definitely did the right thing by calling."

Bettis dialed 911 again at 8:55 a.m. - about four minutes after the first call ended.

"I just called a few minutes ago and the guy came back out and he fired a gun at somebody and he's lying on the street dead," the woman said. "Oh, my God. Please send an ambulance, too."

At 8:56 a.m., dispatchers told officers to stop what they were doing and respond.

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