Five people, including a gunman, died in the attacks Sunday at a megachurch in Colorado Springs and at the Youth With a Mission missionary center in the Denver suburb of Arvada. Five others were wounded.
“Violent crimes of any sort are tragic enough, but when innocent people are killed in a religious facility or a place of worship, we must voice a collective sense of outrage and demonstrate a renewed commitment to keeping our communities safe,” said Gov. Bill Ritter.
Police in Arvada said they believed the shootings – which occurred 12 hours and about 65 miles apart – were probably linked, though they had nothing conclusive to back up the theory.
“Given the circumstances, I think it is a good possibility that the two are linked,” Arvada Deputy Police Chief Gary Creagor told The Associated Press early Monday. “But we have to prove that they are.”
At a news conference Sunday, Police Chief Don Wick said that there was “reason to believe” the shootings were connected, though he declined to elaborate.
Early Monday, authorities were searching a home in suburban Englewood, about 15 miles south of Denver, that they said could be related to the Colorado Springs shooting case. Authorities could be seen coming and going from the home, and at one point searching the bushes in front.
The violence began about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, when a man opened fire at the Youth With a Mission office after he had been denied a request to spend the night there. Witnesses told police that the gunman was a 20-year-old white male, wearing a dark jacket and skull cap, who had a handgun.
More than 12 hours later, at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, a gunman with a high-powered rifle entered the church’s main foyer and opened fire, Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers said.
One church member was killed, and another who was badly wounded died later Sunday at Penrose Community Hospital in Colorado Springs, said hospital spokeswoman Amy Sufak. Their identities were not released.
The gunman was killed by a member of the church’s armed security staff before police arrived, Myers said. Officers also found several smoke-generating devices on the church campus; their intended purpose wasn’t clear.
About 7,000 people were on the church campus at the time of the shooting, said Senior Pastor Brady Boyd said. Security had been beefed up after the shootings hours earlier in Arvada, he said.
New Life, with about 10,000 members, was founded by the Rev. Ted Haggard, who was dismissed last year after a former male prostitute alleged he had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with him. Haggard, then the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, admitted committing undisclosed “sexual immorality.”
The two dead victims at the missionary center were identified as Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24.
Johnson, who grew up in Chisholm, Minn., loved working with children and wanted to see the world, said family friend Carla Macynski.
“Tiffany was a well-liked, easygoing 26-year-old. She was friendly, adventurous and a definite leader. She wanted to see the world,” Macynski said as she choked back tears. Johnson had traveled to Egypt, Libya and South Africa with the missionary group.
Crouse, of Alaska, had helped build a foster home at a Crow reservation in Montana, said Ronny Morris, who works with a Denver chapter of the mission.
Staffer Dan Griebenow, 24, of South Dakota, was shot in the neck, according to Youth With a Mission. Staffer Charlie Blanch, 22, suffered gunshot wounds to his legs, according to ministry officials. His hometown wasn’t immediately known.
The missionary center is on the grounds of the Faith Bible Chapel. Cheril Morrison, wife of chapel pastor George Morrison, said Crouse had just hung up Christmas lights at her home and that Johnson was “an amazingly beautiful person.”
Mimi Martin, who lives near the center, said she received a warning call at about 9 a.m. telling neighbors to keep their doors and windows locked.
“Why would anybody want to hurt those kids?” Martin said.
Darv Smith, director of a Youth With a Mission center in Boulder, said people ranging from their late teens to their 70s undergo a 12-week course that prepares them to be missionaries. He said the center trains about 300 people a year.
Paul Filidis, a Colorado Springs-based spokesman with Youth With a Mission, said staffers are usually former missionaries themselves and that the “mercy ministries” performed by trainees include orphanage work.
Youth With a Mission was started in 1960 and now has 1,100 locations with 16,000 full-time staff, Smith said. The Arvada center was founded in 1984.
The Colorado shootings came only days after a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a popular mall in Omaha, Neb., killing eight people and himself.
Associated Press Religion Writer Eric Gorski and Colleen Slevin in Denver, and George Merritt in Arvada contributing to this report.