By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Back at the beginning of the summer, Hocker and Gallegos had spent time in prayers led by Josh Turville. They had prayed together dozens of times. Now Hocker summoned the strength to lead Gallegos in prayer once again. "I knew he was going to die, and I didn't want him to die without making his peace," Hocker says now. At the time, when she asked Joe to pray with her, he slumped to the floor and bowed his head while she said, "God is here. It doesn't matter what you've done. God will forgive you, and I will forgive you."
Joe Gallegos took a deep breath and sat completely still for the first time since he had arrived that morning. Then he said quietly, "All they fucking have to do is shoot me." With that, he walked to the window and stuck his head out.
A bullet fired from a .308-caliber rifle is about one third of an inch wide. At 100 yards away, a bullet from that rifle will move at a rate of about 2,500 feet per second.
Three police snipers were lying prone on the ground watching the window through high-powered scopes on rifles mounted on bi-pods. According to an official report of the incident, all three heard a police "radio broadcast that the hostages were pleading for their lives." The snipers also knew that Gallegos had stopped negotiating by telephone.
Officials have identified the man who fired the shot that hit Joe Gallegos only as Greeley Police Officer 7, and they have said that he had ten years' experience on the SWAT team. The district attorney's office cleared Officer 7 of any wrongdoing. Whoever it was, it is clear that he acted on his own--he did not have orders or specific authorization to shoot. That's the Greeley Police Department's policy for the SWAT team. "It was purely an individual decision," says Gates, the police spokesman. At 1:40 p.m., according to the police incident report, Officer 7 decided to fire a shot at the "mid-head" region of the man identified as the hostage-taker.
Gallegos was bending forward straight out of the window. The sniper was on the ground to his left. The bullet entered the middle of his throat and then exited through his right collarbone. As the bullet moved through his body, the destruction spread out from the impact point. The hole in his back was more than three inches wide. It was a fatal wound.
But Gallegos was not done fighting.
He turned around and looked right at his hostages and then fell down into a pool of his own blood. The three teens huddled together on the bed and screamed. After a moment, Von Tersch wanted to know if he was dead, so she peered over the edge of the bed.
"We had moved into the corner, but then I looked down," Von Tersch says, "and it was like a horror movie: a pool of blood and no Joe."
Gallegos had risen to his knees, crawled to the gun and was looking straight at Hocker, Adams and Von Tersch. "I got the feeling that he was deciding whether to shoot at us or shoot at the door," Von Tersch says. Hocker had the same feeling: "At first I think he wanted to kill us, but he had a change of heart."
After a moment that seemed like an eternity to the three, Gallegos began firing at the door. He got off at least four shots. All of them hit the door in an area the size of a fist.
Weld County Coroner Scott Anthony says that because of the damage the bullet did to his back, Gallegos may have thought he was shot from behind and was returning fire.
He hit nobody. But that was just luck. He certainly had time to keep shooting, because the SWAT team had difficulty getting into the room. "By the time the cops got in and stood over him," says Hocker, "he could have easily turned and shot us."
The SWAT team, according to official reports of the incident, had assembled in front of a second door to the room, not the door Gallegos was about to riddle with bullets. The team didn't know Gallegos was shot by a police sniper. One officer (also unidentified) told an investigator that he "heard a single gunshot and assumed it came from inside room 452."
The cops were outside the second door because they thought they would be able to kick it open and storm the room. They couldn't. They tried several times, to no avail. That's when they heard more shots. One officer tried to shoot the door open using a shotgun loaded with special bullets designed to break locks without spraying shrapnel inside, but he got his glove stuck in the trigger. Two other officers--saying that they knew where the hostages were--started shooting blindly through the door, firing at least a dozen rounds into the room. Another officer tried to blast the lock with a shotgun loaded with regular buckshot. That didn't work, either. By this time the shooting inside had stopped, so the SWAT team went around to the room's front door and opened it with a key. All of the officers went in that way, according to the official reports, except for one who had already pulled a pin on a "flash-bang" grenade and had to stand there trying to replace the pin.