10 minutes pass before police respond to 911 calls of Colo. gunman
Dispatchers prioritized the call as a burglary, but officers were tied up on other calls
By Sadie Gurman
DENVER — More than 10 minutes passed between the time a woman first called 911 to report a man with a rifle on her Colorado Springs street and her second call reporting he had shot a bicyclist to death, 911 calls released Wednesday show.
Officers were requested, but they did not arrive in time to save Iraq War veteran Andrew Myers, the first of three people killed during the Saturday rampage in broad daylight. The gunman, Noah Harpham, 33, then died in a gunbattle with police.
The recordings show neighbor Naomi Bettis first called 911 to report that a man with a black rifle and two small gas cans was walking up to doors, and "it's kind of scary." Dispatchers prioritized the call as a burglary, but officers were tied up on other calls.
Colorado Springs police said the dispatcher's brief reference to a state law that allows people to openly carry rifles was not a cause of the delay because the dispatcher classified the call appropriately and asked officers to respond. The dispatcher told Bettis she would "keep the call going" because the man's gas cans made the situation suspicious.
The response to the calls came under scrutiny this week, when Bettis complained to reporters about the dispatcher's reference to the open-carry law and said police should have responded sooner to someone brazenly wielding a gun.
Police defended their handling of case, saying the dispatcher was following long-established protocols dictating what level of urgency to assign certain calls. The department said it does not send police to reports of people openly brandishing guns unless they are acting suspiciously.
The dispatcher asked officers to respond to Bettis' call, according to police. But the first available officer went instead to a different call, a disturbance at a senior living facility that was deemed more urgent because it involved a threat to human life. Dispatchers classified Bettis' rifle call as "critical with potentially dangerous circumstances but no apparent imminent life threat," the second-highest priority. It was considered a burglary, and therefore a threat only to property.
Bettis told the dispatcher that no one was in immediate danger. But when Bettis called 911 a second time 10 minutes later, she was frantic.
"The guy came back out and he, he fired a gun at somebody and he's lying on the street dead," she sobbed into the phone. "Oh my God. ... He's got a handgun and a big rifle gun, like a machine gun. ... Come right away. ... I'm across the street in my house, the guy might be shooting me, too."
Bettis told the dispatcher she continued to hear gunshots as the man walked up the street. Harpham then fatally shot Jennifer Michelle Vasquez, 42, and Christina Rose Baccus-Gallela, 34, who were on the porch of a sober living home less than a mile away. Farther down the block, he shot at approaching officers, blowing out the window of a squad car. Four officers fired back, and Harpham was killed.
Police explained their handling of the calls in a news release, but they have not answered additional questions about the response or the investigation.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press