Noah Harpham Killings: Police Explain 10-Minute Response Delay After First 911 Call
A screen capture from a video of Noah Harpham uploaded days before the killings. Additional images and videos below.
Update: Earlier this week, we shared new reports about the investigation into Noah Harpham, who police say shot and killed three people before dying in a gun battle with officers. A neighbor, Naomi Bettis, said she'd called 911 after seeing Harpham with a gun but was told there was nothing police could do owing to open carry laws; see our previous coverage below.
Now, the Colorado Springs Police Department has responded with a detailed account of what took place during the ten-minute period between the first 911 call and a second, during which Bettis revealed that a man, later ID'd as bicyclist Andrew Myers, was dead, and also released audio of the conversations in question. We've shared the links here.
The CSPD insists that the first report wasn't shrugged off. However, it was initially given a lower priority because lives weren't thought to be at risk.
Bettis's first call came in at 8:45:40 a.m., with the department noting that it "reported a suspicious male walking into a building carrying gasoline cans and a rifle" on the 200 block of North Prospect Street in the Springs.
The emergency response technician, or ERT, speaking with Bettis initially classified the report as a "priority 3" — near the middle of its six-point prioritization system. (Priority 6 is the least threatening designation, priority 1 the most serious.) However, about one minute into the two-minute call, the ERT upgraded the circumstance to a priority 2 under the theory that Harpham might be planning to commit a burglary.
Regarding the open-carry mention, here's the transcription: "Well, it is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it. But, of course, having those gas cans does seem pretty suspicious, so we're going to keep the call going for that."
To listen to the first 911 call in its entirety, click here.
Next, the CSPD maintains, the call was routed to a dispatcher. Unfortunately, all of the officers in the Gold Hill Patrol Division, where the incident took place, "were engaged on other calls for service."
At 8:47 a.m., an officer "cleared the call for service which he was attending," the department's recap continues, but rather than being sent to look into the Harpham matter, he was dispatched to "an in-progress disturbance occurring at a senior residential facility."
This report was also a priority 2, but because it represented "a threat to human life," while the Prospect Street call was then considered to be about a possible burglary, the senior center situation was deemed more urgent.
That changed at 8:55:47 a.m., when Bettis called 911 again, this time with terrible news.
"I just called a few minutes ago, and the guy came back out. He fired a gun at somebody and he's laying on the street dead," she can be heard saying between sobs."Some guy was just riding his bike out the alley and the guy started shooting him. And he's laying dead. You need to have somebody come here right away. Poor guy."
The driver's license photo of Noah Harpham.
Aurora Police Department
To listen to the second call, click here.
At that point, all available officers were rushed to North Prospect Street, but they couldn't prevent the killings of two more people, Christina Baccus-Gallela, and Jennifer Vasquez.
The officers who took part in the shootout that killed Harpham have been identified as Patrol Training Officer R. Scott Hallas, hired on August 1, 2001, and partner Officer Charles (Chip) Surratt, who joined the force in March of this year. Also taking part were Patrol Training Officer Edward Crofoot, a CSPD member since January 30, 2008, and partner Officer Matthew Anderson, another March 2015 hire. Both Surratt and Anderson were taking part in field training at the time of the call.
Did the 911 operator do anything wrong? Not in the view of the CSPD, whose release states: "Upon review of the 911 audio from the initial call for service, the ERT responded in accordance with both the Colorado Springs Police Department policy and national protocols."
This contention will no doubt be the subject of continuing debate. Look below to see a 7News item about the latest developments. Then continue for our earlier coverage.
Update, 6:34 a.m. November 3: More information continues to surface about Noah Harpham, who killed three people in Colorado Springs on Halloween before being gunned down by police in a shootout; see our previous coverage below.
In addition to victims Christy Galella and Jennifer Vasquez, we now know the name of the third victim: Andrew Myers, who was fatally wounded while riding his bicycle.
A screen capture from a YouTube video Noah Harpham uploaded in the days before his killing spree. Additional images and videos below.
Moreover, a neighbor says she called police when she saw Harpham walking around with a rifle before the murders began. However, she says she was told by a 911 dispatcher that because of Colorado Springs' open carry laws, officers could do nothing to intervene.
Thus far, no photos of Myers, Harpham's first victim, have surfaced, However, here's a look at Jennifer Vasquez, who was killed in a driveway shortly before Harpham was engaged by police officers.
Police responded only after shots were fired.
But according to 7News, Naomi Bettis, one of Harpham's neighbors, called 911 when she saw him carrying a rifle.
After the operator said there was nothing authorities could do because of the open carry law in Colorado Springs, "I couldn't believe it," Bettis told the station. "Why didn't they just send someone?"
A good question, and one that we can't answer yet, since El Paso County isn't releasing 911 audio or specifically responding to the issue, owing to the ongoing investigation.
However, a supervisor for Adams County Communications Center who spoke with 7News suggested that an alert should have gone out despite the open carry law in the Springs.
More about Harpham's background can be found in a 2013 blog post penned by his mother, Heather Kopp, who wrote about him in the context of Sober Mercies, a book in which she talks about how her Christian faith helped her recover from alcoholism.
The post, "At the Intersection of Addiction and Grace," speaks about Noah accompanying Kopp on a speaking engagement in Virginia — and discusses his own difficulties with substance abuse.
Here's an excerpt:
My grown son Noah joined me on the trip, and I can’t tell you how much it meant to have him with me. As we sat at a gate waiting for a delayed flight and Noah was tracking his fantasy football teams on his phone while eating a huge bag of airport popcorn, I was overcome by joy.
Just to have him next to me. Alive. Sober. Just to have him squeeze my shoulder now and then and say, “You’re going to do great, Mom.”
How can this be the same young man who used to smoke pot for breakfast? Who I used to fear would turn out like my father — addicted, depressed, and suicidal?
How can I be the same mother who used to drown my worry about Noah’s drugging and drinking by getting drunk myself? Who used to live in dread of being exposed as an alcoholic and would rather die than declare it from a podium?
The only explanation is that Noah and I are walking, talking miracles — living proof of God’s goodness and grace.
Following the shootings, Harpham's family released the following statement:
"Our family is shocked and deeply saddened by the devastating events that took place in Colorado Springs on Saturday morning. Words cannot express our heartfelt sympathies that go out to the families and friends of the victims. We ask for privacy as our family tries to deal with this tragedy."
Original post, 6:08 a.m. November 2: Early on Saturday, October 31, in Colorado Springs, preparations for Halloween were shattered by an apparently random series of shootings that left three people dead before police killed the gunman, 33-year-old Noah Harpham.
The victims of the horrific spree were two young women, Christy Galella and Jennifer Vasquez, as well as a bicyclist who has yet to be identified at this writing.
Noah Harpham as seen in a cropped image from a 2013 photo. Additional images and videos below.
Why did Harpham, an insurance-industry employee whose record was clean with the exception of a 2003 speeding ticket in Oregon, suddenly commit these violent and senseless acts?
We may never know the answers to these questions — but Harpham left behind plenty of clues online. And he was also a significant player in Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up With a Christian Drunk, a book written by his mother, Heather Kopp.
The Colorado Springs Department account of what happened documents a lot of investigative work in reverse.
At 8:45 a.m. on Saturday the 31st, the CSPD notes, officers received a call about shots fired on the 200 block of North Prospect Street in the Springs.
Law enforcers rushed to the scene and quickly encountered a man matching the description of the suspect near the intersection of Platte Avenue and Wasatch Street.
The man, later identified as Harpham, is said to have fired multiple shots at the cops, who returned fire.
Harpham was killed in the exchange — but he created a path of destruction before he breathed his last.
According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, Harpham was seen by neighbors entering a building in the vicinity with "a military-style rifle and a can of gasoline." He subsequently emerged with the rifle and a pistol — and quickly gunned down the bicyclist on Prospect Street.
He then shot Galella through the chest at the front door of her home, on the 500 block of Platte Avenue — and Vasquez was killed in a nearby driveway.
Only after they were hit did the CSPD arrive on the scene.
As for what we know about Harpham, much of it comes from Sober Mercies, originally published in 2013.
Here's a partial synopsis of the tome, from its Amazon page:
As a long-time Christian, Heather Kopp never expected to become an out-of-control alcoholic who kept private stashes of booze all over the place—tucked behind books in her study, zipped into a special compartment in her oversized purse, at the back of her closet stuffed inside her boots.
Even as her career and marriage teetered on the brink, Kopp couldn't get a grip, desperately hiding the true extent of her drinking from the rest of the world—her husband included. During the day she wrote books about God and prayer and family. At night she'd locked herself in her bathroom to guzzle chardonnay.
For her, as for many Christians who struggle with addiction, overwhelming shame and confusion only made things worse. Why wasn't her faith enough to save her? Why didn't repentance, Bible reading and prayer work? Where was God?
Meanwhile, as she watched in horror, her grown son descended into his own nightmare of drugs and alcohol. She feared for his life, yet she couldn't stop drinking long enough to help him — or find a way out for herself.
One online reviewer of the book found the sections about Harpham particularly moving, writing, "Later, when her son, Noah, starts into recovery, Heather describes a hope so fragile and sobering, I found myself holding my breath through it. She articulates so well the heart of what it means to let go — something we talk about all the time — and of finding that 'the only hope is in surrendering all hope.' Heather explores new territory with God—the God whom she refers to as 'God as I don't understand him' in the kind of radical trust that isn't attached to outcomes."
More material about Harpham that remains online at this writing includes an eHarmony profile.
He described himself as a Libertarian who likes "playing, writing, and recording music. Recently I've been playing the bass with a fellow named Andy Tanner and a cast of other musicians. I use the guitar to compose songs of my own as well, though they generally don't make it outside of my bedroom. I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous — sober since 12/26/2007 — and I enjoy going to AA meetings and working with my sponsor. Hopefully I'll get the chance to be a sponsor to another alcoholic at some point. I enjoy reading. Lately it's lots of free-market theory and Austrian economics, with a helping of American history. I thoroughly enjoy literary novels as well. BASKETBALL."
The first thing that people notice about him? The profile maintained: "He's just a big, friendly giant, I don't know why I was so intimidated."
He also listed the three things for which he is most thankful:
1. Forgiveness, redemption and restoration, and salvation
2. Free will
3. My family. Their unwavering confidence in my life and future and endless love for me knows no limits.
More recently, however, Harpham shared two items that suggest he may have been unraveling.
On October 29, he uploaded to YouTube a video blog entry. During it, he paces while talking about the apparent interest of Thomas Harpham, his father, in the work of Pastor Bill Johnson, a faith leader affiliated with the Bethel Church in Redding, California.
Here's the clip:
And then there's a blog post headlined "Is my Dad in a Cult? Even Worse, Is It Satanic?!"
Most of the post consists of rants against Johnson. Here's an excerpt:
My theory is that Pastor Bill Johnson is a Satanist intentionally keeping fundamental knowledge from you with the express purpose of controlling your mind and keeping you unaware of the Truth of your own sovereignty.
I will attempt to derive knowledge and understanding from this Bible verse using MY OWN mind. My own understanding is without the benefit of having read or studied the Bible with much purpose or enthusiasm. It is without benefit of contextual knowledge of scriptures preceding or following the verse, or even a sense of context for the book (Romans) within the context of the Bible, that I am attempting to reason.
A Facebook photo of Christy Galella, one of Harpham's victims.
How does any of this connect to the terrible deeds Harpham committed on Halloween?
We don't know yet.
But what's incontrovertible fact is that three people are dead at his hands, leaving behind mourning friends, family and loved ones.
Many of them attended a vigil in Colorado Springs, as seen in the KKTV report below.
We pass along our sincere condolences.