COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The gunman believed to have killed four people at a megachurch and a missionary training school had been thrown out of the school a few years ago and had been sending it hate mail, police said in court papers Monday.
The gunman was identified as Matthew Murray, 24, who was home-schooled in what a friend said was a deeply religious Christian household. Murray’s father is a neurologist and a leading multiple-sclerosis researcher.
Five people — including Murray — were killed, and five others wounded Sunday in the two eruptions of violence 12 hours and 65 miles apart.
The first attack took place at Youth With a Mission, a training center for missionaries in the Denver suburb of Arvada; the other occurred at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, where Murray was shot to death by a security guard. The training center maintains an office at the 10,000-member church.
“Through both investigations it has been determined that most likely the suspect in both shootings are one in the same,” police said in court papers.
Colorado Springs police said the “common denominator in both locations” was Youth With a Mission.
“It appears that the suspect had been kicked out of the program three years prior and during the past few weeks had sent different forms of hate mail to the program and-or its director,” police said.
Health problems cited
In a statement, the training center said health problems kept Murray from finishing the program. It did not elaborate. Murray did not complete the lecture phase or a field assignment as part of a 12-week program, Youth With a Mission said.
“The program directors felt that issues with his health made it inappropriate for him to” finish, it said.
Police gave no immediate details on the hate mail. And the training center said that Murray left in 2002 — five years ago, not three — and that no one there can recall any visits or other communication from him since then.
Earlier Monday, a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said it appeared Murray “hated Christians.”
Investigators have not said whether Murray singled out his victims. But the two people killed at the church — sisters Stephanie and Rachael Works, ages 18 and 16 — frequented the training center, their uncle Mark Schaepe of Lincoln, Neb., told The Gazette of Colorado Springs.
Authorities searched the Murray house on a quiet street in Englewood on Monday for guns, ammunition and computers. No one was home when a reporter visited the split-level brick home early Monday. Murray’s father, Ronald S. Murray, is chief executive of the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center in Englewood.
Matthew Murray lived there along with a brother, Christopher, 21, a student at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.
A neighbor, Cody Askeland, 19, said the brothers were home-schooled, describing the whole family as “very, very religious.”
Christopher studied for a semester at Colorado Christian University before transferring to Oral Roberts, said Ronald Rex, dean of admissions and marketing at Colorado Christian. He said Matthew Murray had been in contact with school officials this summer about attending the school but decided he wasn’t interested because he thought the school was too expensive.
No criminal history
Police said Murray’s only previous brush with the law was a traffic ticket earlier this year.
Senior Pastor Brady Boyd of New Life Church said the gunman had no connection to the church. “We don’t know this shooter,” Boyd said. “He showed up on our property yesterday with a gun with the intention of hurting people, and he did.”
The gunman opened fire at 12:30 a.m. at the Youth With a Mission center. Witnesses said the man asked to spend the night there and opened fire with a handgun when he was turned down. They described him as a young man, perhaps 20, in a dark jacket and cap.
Later, at New Life Church, a gunman wearing a trench coat and carrying a high-powered rifle opened fire in the parking lot and later walked into the church as a service was letting out.
Jeanne Assam, a church member who volunteers as a security guard, shot and killed Murray, who was found with a rifle and two handguns, police said. The pastor called her “a real hero.”
“When the shots were fired, she rushed toward the scene and encountered the attacker there in a hallway. He never got more than 50 feet inside our building,” he said. “There could have been a great loss of life yesterday, and she probably saved over 100 lives.”
Boyd said the gunman had a lot of ammunition and estimated that 40 rounds had been fired inside the church, leaving what looked like a “war scene.”
Jessie Gingrich, who had left New Life and was in the parking lot getting into her car, saw the gunman get a rifle from his trunk and open fire on a van with people inside. Gingrich said she cowered in her vehicle, fumbling with the key.
“I was just expecting for the next gunshot to be coming through my car. Miraculously — by the grace of God — it did not,” she told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
About 7,000 people were in and around the church the time of the shooting, Boyd said. Security had been beefed up after the shootings hours earlier in Arvada, he said. The church had a total of 15 to 20 volunteer security officers inside at the time of the attack, he said.
Some members of the congregation reacted with compassion and forgiveness, in keeping with their faith.
Ashley Gibbs was getting into a car with David Harris when they heard the gunshots. They stayed in the vehicle.
“It was obvious that he was in some sort of pain and going through a lot,” Gibbs told the TODAY show. “I just prayed God would bring him peace.”
Church founded by Ted Haggard
New Life, with a largely upper middle-class membership, 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 admitted committing unspecified “sexual immorality.”
The two people killed 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,” Macynski said as she choked back tears. Johnson had traveled to Egypt, Libya and South Africa with the missionary group.
Crouse, of Alaska, was a former skinhead who went through a dramatic spiritual conversion at 18. He had helped build a foster home at a Crow Indian reservation in Montana, said Ronny Morris, who works with a Denver chapter of the mission.
“Whenever somebody asks me to give a specific situation where a kid’s life has been changed or transformed, I always think of Phil, because he had such a radical transformation of life,” said pastor Zach Chandler in Anchorage, Alaska.
Youth With a Mission was started in 1960 and now has 1,100 locations with 16,000 full-time staff, said Darv Smith, director of a Youth With a Mission center in Boulder.
The Colorado shootings came days after a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a busy department store in Omaha, Neb., killing eight people and himself.
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