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911 tapes released from Colorado Springs shooting spree

November 4, 2015 Updated: November 5, 2015 at 6:26 am
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photo - Flowers left in a fence Monday, November 2, 2015 as a memorial to the victims of Saturday's shootings in downtown Colorado Springs, Colo. The memorial on an overpass above Platte Avenue is one of a handful of memorials spread over a three block area. AP PHOTO/THE GAZETTE/MARK REIS
Flowers left in a fence Monday, November 2, 2015 as a memorial to the victims of Saturday's shootings in downtown Colorado Springs, Colo. The memorial on an overpass above Platte Avenue is one of a handful of memorials spread over a three block area. AP PHOTO/THE GAZETTE/MARK REIS 

Colorado Springs police officials defended the dispatcher who took the first call Saturday about a man with a gun who, within an half hour, went on to kill three people in a shooting spree across downtown.

The dispatcher "responded in accordance with both the Colorado Springs Police Department policy and national protocols," according to the department's news release Wednesday in which they also named the officers involved in the shootout.

The release came as the department faced nation-wide scrutiny for its handling of the 911 call, which was made about 10 minutes before Noah Harpham, 33, went on the bloody rampage.

A neighbor first called police at 8:45 a.m. Saturday reporting a man walking around with a rifle and gas cans, police said Wednesday.

"It's kind of scary," she said. "I went out there to get into my Jeep to get in there and go somewhere and I'm scared to death."

"I don't know if it's a fake gun, bb gun, but it looks pretty scary," she later added.

The six-minute call was originally listed as priority three on a scale of one to six - one being the highest, most serious emergency call needing attention, and six being the lowest priority.

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.

And 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.

The caller dialed 911 again at 8:55 a.m. - about four minutes after hanging up from the first call.

"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.

The bicyclist, Andrew Alan Myers, 35, died mere feet from Harpham's house at 230 N. Prospect St. - his body coming to a rest as the gunman continued west on Platte Avenue, witnesses said.

Harpham later gunned down Christy Galella, 34, and Jennifer Vasquez, 42, at the Platte House, a home for women recovering from alcoholism and drug abuse.

Harpham then continued west - opening fire on responding officers in a shootout near a Wendy's restaurant at Wahsatch and Platte avenues.

The four officers involved in the shootout were R. Scott Hallas, Charles "Chip" Surratt, Edward Crofoot and Matthew Anderson, Colorado Springs police announced Wednesday.

Two of the officers were seasoned veterans. Hallas has spent 14 years with the department, and Crofoot seven years.

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

The officers were placed on routine, paid administrative leave after the shootings, said Lt. Catherine Buckley, police spokeswoman. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office's investigation into the officers' use of deadly force has been turned over the the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office, a sheriff's spokesperson said.

Questions arose on social media and in numerous publications about the Police Department's response to the first call Saturday, after Naomi Bettis, a neighbor, said the dispatcher cited a law allowing people to openly carry guns in public.

"It may be the guy who lives upstairs, because he ran right up there, but he still shouldn't be holding that gun," Bettis said, according to the 911 recording.

"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."

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

About two minutes before the first call ended, the woman lamented what she saw.

"I just hope it's not as bad as it is," the caller 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."

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