Candles and flowers dotted a small but growing memorial Monday to six people gunned down in southeastern Colorado Springs early Sunday before police say the assailant fatally shot himself.
Police were tight-lipped on the incident Monday, releasing no new details on how the late-night birthday party at Canterbury Mobile Home Park on Preakness Way off Powers Boulevard turned into a nightmare around midnight, when a boyfriend of a female victim allegedly began shooting.
It was the worst mass killing in Colorado Springs since 1911, when six city residents were found dead in two neighboring houses, all killed with an ax.
The El Paso County Coroner’s Office said it plans to officially release the victims’ names Tuesday after autopsies are complete. As of Monday afternoon, half of the autopsies had been completed, a spokeswoman for the office said.
A mobile crime lab was parked early Monday outside the Colorado Springs home, which was cordoned off by yellow police tape as officers guarded the scene. By midafternoon the tape was gone; a sign stood in front of the home advertising “Grief Support, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.," at the mobile home park office.
A small crowd of mourners arrived to pay their respects, leaving bouquets of yellow roses and devotional candles on a small table they set up in front of the home. They silently gazed, then left without comment under a dark, gray sky and blustering winds. Someone closed a partially open window in the home from the outside.
Gladis Bustos, who lives three homes away, tearfully recalled the home’s owner, Joana Cruz, as a warmhearted, hardworking person who always took the time to say hello to her neighbors, ask how they were doing, and brag about her children.
“She was an incredibly pleasant woman, very beautiful, happy all the time,” Bustos said. “She loved to chat. And she was very proud of her family.”
The gunfire that startled Bustos from her sleep early Sunday had forever changed what she described as a safe and welcoming neighborhood.
“We’re all in shock," she said. “How can this happen here? This is all so painful, so devastating, so overwhelming.”
A neighbor who wouldn't give his name said he heard several gunshots around 12:13 a.m. and immediately dialed 911. He hid behind the truck in his driveway with dispatchers on the phone, he recounted.
“I heard a woman yell, ‘No, no no!’” he said.
The sound of more gunshots pierced the air.
“I told the operator on the phone, ‘I think he killed everybody.’”
The first fire crews to respond to the shooting were told to stay back because of possible gunfire — then given an all-clear to approach the home an agonizing eight minutes after the initial dispatch, according to a recording of a Colorado Springs dispatch call.
As the magnitude of the shooting became clearer, the first on the scene requested more ambulances and engine crews. Sirens are heard in the background as responders at the scene request more help.
“Engine 11, sounds like more shots are still being fired — keep your distance,” a dispatcher says at one point. Twenty seconds later the engine crew responds: “Looking like we have multiple victims,” and asks for more ambulances. The dispatcher requests another engine to “2828 Preakness Way, possible multiple gunshot victims.”
More than eight minutes in, the dispatcher says that “police on scene are advising that there are four victims and that you are clear to go in.” Soon thereafter, Engine 11 requests another ambulance; 13 minutes in the dispatcher says: “The sergeant on the scene is saying that medical is cleared to enter for all six patients. ... They’re saying we have six.”
The dead included Cruz, who would have turned 54 this week; her sons, Jose Guttierez, 21, and Melvin Perez, who would have turned 31 this week; Melvin’s wife, Mayra Perez, 32; and Mayra Perez's sister Sandra Ibarra and brother Jose Ibarra. The alleged shooter, who has not yet been identified, killed himself, according to police.
The victims were unofficially identified to The Gazette on Sunday by Nubia Marquez, Joana's daughter.
Several children in attendance at the party survived and were "with relatives," police said Sunday.
Freddy Marquez, Nubia's husband, said Sunday the suspect was identified as Sandra Ibarra's boyfriend, whom he only knew as "Junior."
A bullet from the shooting ripped through a mobile home next door. Its homeowner, Jay, who did not want to give his last name, said he went into flight-or-fight mode when he heard the shots.
“I army crawled from my front door to the back room,” Jay said.
Jay started to turn off lights but saw several children leave the house next door, one of the kids screaming for his mother.
“I can’t imagine what the kids are feeling,” Jay said. “They've got to be hurting right now.”
Jay said he spoke with Cruz frequently.
“They have parties all the time, and for people who throw parties, they are very respectful — super, super respectful,” Jay said. “I have nothing but good things to say about them; that’s the thing. There’s nothing bad I could say about them.”
The Gazette previously reported comments by Freddy Marquez who remembered Cruz as “hardworking” and “always laughing.”
Guttierez and Melvin Perez were just like their mom, Marquez told the newspaper.
“They were all great people,” he said.
A Facebook post by the Colorado Springs company Mayra Perez worked for called her "a valued employee, a dedicated mother and a good person."
Former Canterbury resident Sarah Chamberlayne developed a friendship with Mayra and Melvin Perez during the seven years they shared a backyard fence, helping each other with household tasks and keeping an eye on the children in each other’s yards.
“Mayra and Melvin were two of the greatest people that I think I ever met,” said Chamberlayne, who moved to Victoria, Va., southwest of Richmond, in 2017. “They believed in traditional family values. They raised their kids very closely.”
The Perez family had talked about visiting Chamberlayne, her husband and her grandchildren in Virginia, complete with a trip to Washington, D.C., but plans never materialized, she said.
Melvin Perez was a masonry worker who “started from the bottom” and got into business for himself, and Mayra Perez was a homemaker and exercise enthusiast who enjoyed attending fitness classes, she said.
“Once she climbed the Incline in Manitou Springs — her and a group of her friends. She said she’d never do that again, and Melvin of course just laughed at her,” she recalled, referring to the notoriously challenging hiking trail that climbs 2,000 vertical feet in roughly a mile.
Chamberlayne said she had just got back in touch with the couple’s older son, Julian, to wish him a happy 18th birthday on Friday. Now, he’s trying to figure out a future for himself, his brother and toddler sister without their parents.
“He’s just tore up,” she said.
On Friday, Mayra Perez wrote a tribute to her son on his birthday, celebrating her “first bb” and wishing he is “granted everything.”
Two days later, Julian Rivera answered with his own post on Facebook after word of the shooting went public.
“I’ll always miss you,” he said in a post addressed to both parents.
“I promise I won’t give up,” he added. “I’ll make sure my sister and brother (are) good.”
Gazette reporter Lance Benzel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.