2 dead, suspect at large after shooting at missionary training campus

NBC 9 News, Colorado/December 9, 2007

By Jack Maher, Dan Boniface and Colleen Locke

Arvada -- A lone gunman opened fire on a missionary training campus early Sunday morning, shooting four people, two of whom have died and one who is in critical condition.

Arvada Police investigators say the gunman walked into a dorm-like residence hall at the Youth with a Mission facility on the Faith Bible Chapel campus near 63rd & Ward Road just after midnight and began shooting. Youth with a Mission is commonly referred to as YWAM.

Peter Warren, the Director of Youth with a Mission Denver says YWAM had just finished a Christmas banquet and were cleaning up at about 12:30 a.m. when the suspect arrived and asked 26-year-old Tiffany Johnson of Minnesota if he could be housed for the evening.

When Johnson told him they could not accommodate him, Warren says, the suspect opened fire with an automatic handgun, hitting four people, including Johnson. Police have not yet released any information regarding the weapon used in the shooting.

All four people were rushed to area hospitals where two people died. Three of the four people have been confirmed as being staff members of YWAM.

Paul Filidis of YWAM Colorado Springs says Johnson and 24-year-old Philip Crouse of Alaska, were killed. He says their families have been notified and are on their way to Colorado.

According to Filidis and Warren, the third victim, 24-year-old Dan Griebenow of South Dakota, has a bullet in his neck and is listed in critical but stable condition. Griebenow joined the staff in the winter of 2007, according to YWAM's Web site.

Filidis says the fourth victim, 22-year-old Charlie Blanch, suffered gunshot wounds to his leg. Blanch has been a staff member of YWAM since the fall of 2006, according to their Web site.

YWAM is a group that trains people to be missionaries from all over the world and to help the poor and needy.

"That suspect then fled the scene on foot and we conducted an extensive canine track. We had many, many patrol officers in the area. We had assistance from Wheat Ridge Police Department as well as Jefferson County Sheriff's Office," said Medina. "Unfortunately, he remains at large at this moment."

The suspect is described as a white male, about 20 years old, who was wearing a dark coat. He may have been wearing a dark beanie or skull cap, may have had a beard and may have been wearing glasses.

"The young man - I don't know who he is; I don't think [the victims] knew him - but he must be going through a lot personally in his own life to do something like this," said Warren.

Police say they do not know whether the shooting was random or if there was a motive.

Warren says YWAM has open worship times when the public is allowed on their campus.

"Our belief is that only God is the judge and our place is to forgive and that's a difficult thing to do, but really, I think it's the right thing to do," said Warren.

Police have asked people who live in the area to look out of their windows to see if there are any unusual footprints in the snow or clothing that may have been in their yard.

Medina says as many as 45 people were evacuated and RTD buses came in to transport the displaced residents. The residents were taken to an offsite location where police began interviewing them.

"We're hoping to not only piece together this information, but hopefully we can glean some information that will lead us to the person responsible for this crime," said Medina.

Warren says there are about 80 people living on the Arvada campus and they will be transported to the group's mountain campus near Golden where they will sleep on the floor until the murder investigation is processed at their residence. It was unknown how long that might take.

"This is a very extensive crime scene," said Medina. "We have a number of people to interview. We have our crime scene technicians that are in the facility right now trying to process to, you know, figure out exactly what happened."

Media says police have made two reverse 911 calls to residents in the area to warn them to be vigilant in case they see the suspect and to keep their doors and windows locked.

Dr. Darv Smith, who works with the Boulder-area group of YWAM, says there are six staff members on the Arvada campus. He says mostly students live on the campus for a 12-week discipleship training.

Smith says most of the students are from other parts of the country and around the world, with ages ranging from right out of high school to "mature" adults in their 50s and 60s. He says the organization has about 16,000 people worldwide.

"I think they had an experience with God and had a real heart's desire to actually go and serve and to bring that good news of the Gospel," Smith said on 9NEWS at 5.

Warren says they are trying to deal with this situation as best as they can.

"There's no blueprint for this," said Warren. "You know, we're just going to be honest, we're going to pray with one another and cry with one another. These kids were like our kids, you know. It's just such a tragedy, but who knows what's going on in this young man's life."

"We are a community that is grieving today," said Arvada Police Chief Don Wick. "We are mourning the senseless loss of life of young adults who were committed to the service of others. They traveled long distances from home to learn to be missionaries and they faced an unthinkable tragedy."

"On behalf of the City of Arvada and the Arvada City Council, I want to acknowledge and recognize the terrible tragedy that has taken place in our community. I want to make it clear that the city will provide all the resources and I'll support anything that the Arvada Police Department needs in its efforts to apprehend whoever's responsible," said Arvada Mayor Bob Frie.

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