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Two victims in Colorado Springs shooting spree had turned lives around

November 1, 2015 Updated: November 2, 2015 at 6:09 pm
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photo - Christy Galella
Christy Galella 

Two of the three victims of a gunman who went on a shooting spree Saturday in Colorado Springs were women who overcame struggles in recent months to turn their lives around, family members said.

The two, Christy Galella and Jennifer Vasquez, were honored at a vigil Sunday night along with a bicyclist whose name has not been released.

Galella was looking forward to spending Saturday with her mother and sister.

Instead, a gunman shot Galella through the chest at the front door of her home at 543 E. Platte Ave.

"She faced obstacles, but she was sailing over them, her mother, Vanessa Rich said.

Family members identified the other victim at the house as Jennifer Vasquez, who was gunned down in the driveway.

"She was always there for me," said family friend Omar Martinez, who had planned to spend Saturday with Vasquez. "She always showed compassion."

The bicyclist also was fatally shot in the neighborhood. The assailant, identified by neighbors and acquaintances as Noah Harpham, 33, was killed in a shootout with Colorado Springs police. Police have not released the identities of the shooter or the victims.

On Sunday, the Platte House was quiet, and no one answered the door. Three sections of the house's siding facing Platte Avenue had been removed, and the structure was punctured with what appeared to be bullet holes.

The house is owned by Alano House, a nonprofit run by recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who specialize in substance abuse treatment and mental health care. The Platte House was a sober living and recovery facility catering to women.

Everyone living there, however, has been moved to other Alano House facilities, said Brandon Ridenour, chairman of the nonprofit's board. He declined to say whether anyone else was hurt.

Galella was a California native who overcame many difficulties in her 33 years, family members said.

But Galella changed directions in Colorado Springs.

"She got it together," her aunt Rita Nicholas said. "She got a couple jobs and was doing really well. And then this happened."

Nicholas started an online fundraiser to cover Galella's funeral costs. For information, visit: bit.ly/1iwfzMP.

Vasquez was a woman who also had battled to overcome life's struggles. Martinez said she was looking forward to a brighter future.

"Jennifer will be remembered by a lot of people," Martinez said.

An online fundraiser to cover Vasquez's funeral expenses can be found here: bit.ly/20mblcI

Neighbors were in shock Sunday from what they described as a horror movie come to life on Halloween morning on the streets east of downtown Colorado Springs.

A man carrying a rifle and a can or two of gasoline - identified as the tenant of the home, Harpham - walked into his home at 230 N. Prospect St. and later reappeared with a pistol added to his armaments.

Then came the chilling sound of a passing bicyclist begging for his life.

"Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me!" the bicyclist yelled as he was shot, a neighbor said.

"We thought it was a Halloween prank," said Teresa Willingham.

Willingham, who lives down the street from where the shooting started about 8:45 a.m., said her 7-year-old son witnessed the bicyclist's death.

"He said 'Mommy, someone fell off the bike'," she said.

Another neighbor, Matt Abshire, said he followed Harpham through the neighborhood and saw his next two victims - the women at the house off Platte Avenue - gunned down.

The gunman was later killed in a shootout with police at a Wendy's restaurant at 222 N. Wahsatch Ave., about three blocks to the west. The number of bullets fired left investigators asking nearby residents and business owners to check their buildings for damage.

At least one bullet hole was found in a building housing U.S. Marshal's Service operations to the south of the Wendy's, and deputies combed the property Sunday for more evidence.

An organization was renting the Palmer High School gymnasium - on the opposite corner from Wendy's - for a wrestling tournament Saturday morning when the bullets started flying, said Devra Ashby, a Colorado Springs School District 11 spokeswoman.

She said Colorado Springs police asked people inside the gym to stay there during the ensuing investigation.

District officials did not find damage from stray bullets during a cursory search on Saturday. The results of a more detailed search Sunday were not available, Ashby said.

Authorities on Sunday remained tight lipped about the shootings.

"Pending completion of the autopsies and notification of the next of kin the El Paso County Sheriff's Office does not have any updates on the investigation regarding the officer involved shooting yesterday and the ensuing investigation," the Sheriff's Office said on Facebook.

Colorado Springs police Lt. Catherine Buckley said her agency won't discuss the shootings until autopsies are completed - Monday at the soonest.

But clues to what happened Saturday morning emerged with the blackened carpet of a Prospect Street house.

The landlord, who didn't want to be identified, said the shooting was accompanied by an arson at the place he rented to Harpham.

He said Harpham lived there for about three months after he moved from a house across the street where he had lived with his girlfriend at the time. He seemed like a good tenant.

Saturday's shooting and fire, the landlord said, left him shocked and surprised.

Across the street, neighbor Naomi Bettis was shaken by what she saw on a sunny Saturday morning.

Bettis said she called police twice on Saturday morning - once to report her neighbor walking around with a rifle.

She saw Harpham walk into the house with a rifle and a can or two of gasoline. Then, he went up an outside staircase and came out with a rifle and a pistol.

He walked down the street and took aim at a passing bicyclist, she said.

Bettis recalled the bicyclist's last words. "Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me!"

"But he was already being shot," Bettis said.

She called 911 again the second time.

"I said, 'The guy I just called you about that had the gun, he just shot somebody three times,'" Bettis said.

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