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Out of Focus

Kneeling in prayer at Denver's Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Kerry Dore lit six candles--one for each of his four children, one for his ex-wife, and one for himself. He had already purchased a pistol and bullets, and he felt that God was guiding him during his final hours on earth.

The 43-year-old ironworker had been praying at the East Colfax cathedral every day for the past six months, desperately trying to find some higher guidance for a life in which everything had gone wrong. His health, his livelihood, his wife and children--all had been lost. Living in constant pain from a horrific accident, he feared for his sanity and prayed for a solution.

What came to him during those feverish months in the spring of 1996, he says, was a troubling "weird light" that seemed to flow into him as he prayed. He couldn't sleep in the presence of the light and became increasingly depressed. More and more, his thoughts turned to the place where his life started to unravel: The three-story, $30 million world headquarters of Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based evangelical group.

"This presence came to me, a light, and it wouldn't go away," Dore says. "It told me to go down there."

Dore had been badly injured while helping to build the Focus on the Family building in 1992. He was sliding down a steel column with 100 pounds of tools strapped around his waist when he lost his grip and was impaled on a twelve-inch rod of rebar sticking up at the base of the column. The iron bar penetrated his leg, buttocks and colon, narrowly missing his spine and puncturing his bladder.

After three surgeries and treatment by several different doctors, Dore was left in continual pain. For a time he was hooked up to a colostomy bag and catheter, and basic bodily functions are now still a source of daily humiliation. Dore has also battled constantly with his employer's insurance company, which used Colorado's employer-friendly workers' compensation law to challenge his disability claims.

Out of work and living on a disability check of $1,126 per month, Dore was further devastated when his marriage fell apart. Tormented by his inability to care for his children, he began plotting revenge against those he blamed for destroying his life.

Focus on the Family was at the top of his list. Dore blamed the group for hiring a non-union contractor that he says cut corners on workplace safety. He was further enraged when he contacted Focus on the Family, asking the organization to help him and his family, and received nothing but a quick visit from a minister and a bouquet of flowers. To Dore, this seemed like outrageous hypocrisy from an organization that claims to be devoted to the preservation of families.

"I don't know how anyone could be so cruel and consider themselves to be these pristine Christians," he says.

As he became more and more delusional, Dore's thoughts turned to self-destruction. If he committed suicide or was killed by the police in the very building where he'd been injured, he thought, the whole world would know what had happened to him. His betrayal by Focus on the Family, his shabby treatment in the workers' compensation system, the medical humiliation he'd endured--no one would be able to ignore it.

"I just wanted people to know they wouldn't help me," he says. "I was going to blow my brains out."

And so on a Thursday morning in May of last year he packed up the .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun he'd bought from a neighbor in north Denver for $100 and the ammunition he'd purchased at a Gart Brothers sporting-goods store. With a red marker, he scrawled a final message to his doctors on his chest: "Make sure I'm dead before de-boweling me for a fourth time." He put on a sleeveless vest and packed several signal flares inside it.

He took the light-rail train to the RTD station at I-25 and Broadway, where he called for a taxi. He had just $67 and asked the driver to head south and keep going till the money ran out. The driver dropped him off just outside the town of Monument, and Dore walked the remaining nine miles to the Focus on the Family building off Briargate Boulevard.

Dore entered the group's main building at 1:30 p.m. He went to the reception desk and pointed his pistol at two employees, tour guide Laurilee Keyes and receptionist Judy Baker. He told them he wanted the facility cleared and that he was carrying explosives and planned to blow up the building. At this point one of the women activated a panic button, which summoned a security guard, Mike Benzie, and a building engineer, Carl Chinn.

 

To evacuate the building, Benzie set off the fire alarm. While Dore never indicated that Benzie or Chinn had to stay, they chose to remain in the building with the two women. For the next ninety minutes, they listened to Kerry Dore scream and sob as he recounted the injustices done to him by the construction company, Focus on the Family and the workers' compensation system.

"All I could think of was the whole Oklahoma City incident," says Baker. "I really thought perhaps the end had come."

Dore showed the hostages the scars on his abdomen from his multiple surgeries. He then asked Keyes to place a call to the state workers' compensation office in Denver. He told her that after he talked to someone there, he would let her and Baker go. He also asked to talk to James Dobson, the licensed psychologist who serves as president of Focus on the Family and host of the organization's influential radio and television programs. However, Dobson was in Washington, D.C., for National Day of Prayer events and could not be reached.

Dore also spoke of his four children and his frustration at not being able to care for them. Keyes later told the Denver Post that Dore told her he was going to end his life. "'My life is over, I'm in such pain, I can't live like this,'" she recalled him saying. "He cried when he spoke about his kids."

Dore continually cocked his pistol and played with the hammer, Keyes told the paper, and she feared that she might not survive the ordeal.

When Dore repeated his request that a call be placed to the workers' comp office, Chinn told him the telephone system had shut down after the fire alarm went off. It wasn't true, but Chinn told the Colorado Springs Gazette that he wanted to keep Dore off the phone in the hopes that police would call.

About fifteen minutes later, they did. Colorado Springs police detective Tom Harris phoned Dore and started negotiations. He told Dore that the building was surrounded by dozens of police officers, including a SWAT team armed with high-powered rifles. After about a half an hour, Harris persuaded Dore to allow the hostages to leave the building.

"It was probably the longest ninety minutes of my life," recalls Baker.
For the next four and a half hours, Harris talked with Dore, who told the detective he was going to commit suicide. Harris tried to talk him into surrendering instead.

Dore says Harris told him if he shot himself or was killed by the SWAT team, his body would be taken out the back door, while if he surrendered, his picture would be on television and in the newspapers and he could tell the world his story. That was the argument that finally persuaded Dore to remove his vest, lay down the revolver and walk out the door with his hands up.

Dore insists he never intended to harm the hostages. "None of them got shot or beat up," he says. "I could have put holes in them, but none of them were responsible. It's a good thing I didn't; they would have been martyrs. It would have been like Princess Diana--can you imagine?"

Since he had planned to die at the Focus on the Family building, Dore hadn't thought about having to prepare for a trial--or for the very real possibility that he will spend the rest of his life in prison. "I didn't expect it to end this way," he says.

Eleven days after the incident, which made national headlines, El Paso County prosecutors charged Dore with fourteen felonies, including four counts of first-degree kidnapping. Dore's trial is now set to begin November 3. He was released from jail last August when relatives managed to post a $50,000 bond. If he's found guilty on all counts, his mandatory minimum sentence would be 64 years in prison.

During a recent interview near his brother's home in the Denver suburb of Federal Heights, Dore never sits down, shifting from foot to foot and saying he has to keep moving to be comfortable. He keeps the top button of his pants unfastened to relieve the pressure on his abdomen. He speaks quickly and has a tendency to jump from one topic to another.

Dore says he regrets terrorizing the Focus employees. But he makes no secret of his continuing anger at Focus on the Family and the state's workers' compensation system. "It's totally insane what I did, but what those people did to me was more insane," he says.

The road that led an armed Kerry Dore to the front door of Focus on the Family took several turns. He says it began with an unsafe construction site.

 

"There was no scaffolding or anything," Dore says. The non-union contractor was pressuring workers to get the job done quickly, according to Dore, and the construction crew was taking shortcuts by shimmying down steel columns. At a union work site, adds Dore, rods of rebar are required to be bent over so that no one can be hurt falling on them. Dore's employer was later fined $5,000 by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for "unsafe work practices" at the work site.

Dore also blames the doctors who treated him for his injuries. His medical treatment was cruel and humiliating, he claims, and one doctor took pleasure in taunting him in Spanish. "He twisted my colon to see if it would hurt," he says, his face contorting at the memory. "I got treated like dirt in the hospital."

What followed was a series of surgeries, none of which succeeded in ending the pain. Today Dore must follow a special diet. He needs to stimulate his bowels with warm water to pass stools and has to use the shower as a toilet. While there are specially designed bathrooms for people in his situation, he's never had the money to pay for one.

The other target of Dore's ire is Colorado's workers' compensation system. In fact, his case is often cited by critics of the state legislature's 1991 "reform" of workers' compensation, which saved Colorado employers millions of dollars by making it much more difficult for injured workers to collect on claims ("Still Hurting," March 28, 1996).

Under the no-fault workers' comp system, a person like Dore cannot legally sue his employer after suffering an on-the-job injury. Instead, the employer is required to maintain workers' comp insurance coverage, which is supposed to cover all of an injured employee's medical expenses and reimburse him for the loss of his ability to earn a living.

However, Colorado's workers' comp system now makes it extremely difficult to prove disability. Under the pre-1991 law, Dore would likely have been found to be permanently and totally disabled and probably would have received $220,000 over the course of his life. But because the new law has made it extremely difficult to prove permanent total disability, on the advice of his attorney, Dore chose to settle for $120,000, a figure that included a $40,000 cash payment and disability benefits of $1,126 per month for a limited period of time.

Those monthly benefits will run out in the year 2000, and Dore--if he's not in prison--will have to scratch out an existence on welfare. Because he worked for many years as a self-employed mechanic, he's not eligible for regular Social Security disability.

Many of those injured in the workplace in Colorado find that they have to do battle with their employers' insurance carrier, and Dore was no exception. He says one adjuster suggested that he might be faking his symptoms. "How do you fake a colostomy bag?" he asks.

Even more disturbing to Dore is the fate of his four children, who range in age from six to fourteen. The kids, who live with their mother near Canon City, are on welfare, and Dore weeps as he talks about his inability to provide for them. "If I think about my children, I get so mad," he says. "I can't do anything for them. I owe $25,000 in child support. I've gone through so many Christmases without being able to give them anything."

Dore is able to visit his kids on weekends. On those occasions, he tries to do what he can for them by fixing their bicycles and helping around the house. He says he gave much of the $40,000 in cash he received to his ex-wife to help with child support. However, he often can't drive down to see the children, since he can't afford to pay for car insurance. Before the Colorado Springs incident, he served a ten-day jail stint in Salida for driving without insurance.

Although Dore's ex-wife told him she wouldn't mind if he stayed with her and the children, welfare authorities said she and the kids would lose their benefits if Dore moved in. So Dore has been staying with his brother and sister-in-law in a Federal Heights trailer park. To see his children, he usually has to hitch a ride or arrange for them to be brought to Denver. The ultimate irony in Dore's view is that his family has paid the price for an accident at the headquarters of an organization that says it is devoted to preserving families.

A few weeks before he stormed into the Focus on the Family building, Dore says he met with Paul Hetrick, the group's vice president for media relations, and asked for help for him and his family. "I said, 'This is a joke--the sign says you're dedicated to the preservation of families, and I have four kids, and you haven't done anything to help me,'" recalls Dore.

 

Dore says Hetrick responded that Focus on the Family had sent a minister to see him in the hospital and had delivered a bouquet of flowers. "I said, 'Paul, get real. You have a sign on I-25. You have political pull. Call Denver and tell them to help me.'" (Hetrick did not respond to Westword's request for comment.)

Dore still seethes over Focus on the Family's refusal to assist him financially. He points to the group's luxurious headquarters building, with its handcrafted woodwork and abundant art, as well as Focus on the Family's multi-million-dollar budget. "With $108 million a year, why can't these people help me?" he asks. "I don't have a place to stay, and I can't see my kids because I don't have insurance on my car. Who could possibly be more deserving recipients than me and my family?"

Two independent psychological evaluations of Dore performed at the request of his attorneys both say he suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder because of his injury. The symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia and overwhelming anxiety. The reports also note that he went for more than a year after his injury with no psychiatric care, a period during which he rapidly deteriorated.

Because he found many of the painkillers prescribed by his doctors to be ineffective, Dore told the psychologists that he frequently smokes marijuana to ease his discomfort. He was high when he stormed into the Focus on the Family building, he said, and also smoked pot during the standoff.

At one time, someone with Dore's intense psychological problems probably would have been hospitalized long before he showed up at Focus on the Family with a gun. But state-supported mental facilities have been closed or scaled back over the past two decades. In the months leading up to the incident in Colorado Springs, Dore seemed to be reaching out for help. He picketed the workers' compensation building in Denver and told his story to anyone who would listen.

He also was a frequent volunteer at Little Sisters of the Poor, a north Denver geriatric facility. He offered to help out with light maintenance work and wound up putting in hundreds of hours of volunteer time. "He was looking for some family here," says Kim Martinez, who manages the complex. "We saw him at least three or four times a week. He was obviously not getting the psychological help he should have."

Martinez talked with Dore frequently about his problems and became fond of the troubled volunteer who lived just a few doors away. "It was a difficult time in his life," Martinez recalls. "His wife had just left him and then he had the accident. He had tendencies toward suicide, there's no doubt about it."

While Dore's emotional state led him to the confrontation in Colorado Springs, his actions have had their own effect on the people he took hostage. Judy Baker says Dore's rampage has made it impossible for her to work. She quit her job at Focus on the Family a few months after Dore came through the front door and now suffers from a familiar malady: post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I had to leave my job, because I found the aftermath was worse than the actual incident," she says. "It did a real number on my nervous system. I just wasn't able to cope."

Baker says she found herself overcome with anxiety in dealing with other people and couldn't continue her work as a receptionist. "I was afraid of people," she says. "I was having trouble relating to people and being around them. It can take you a long time to get back to being able to be comfortable with people. I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd have post-traumatic stress. You can't imagine it until you go through it."

Baker says it was apparent to her that Dore was in physical pain and emotional turmoil. But she still hasn't been able to forgive him for what he did to her and the others.

"I do feel sorry for what he's been through, but everybody's got their choices to make," she says. "He made his decision, and a lot of people suffered as a result."

Even though there is no doubt about what Dore did last May, he has pled not guilty on all fourteen felony counts. Former El Paso County public defender Pat Vance, who served as Dore's attorney until last month, says the defense will argue that Dore wasn't trying to extract anything of value when he took the hostages, so his actions don't meet the legal definition of kidnapping. "The defense is going to be that his intent was to commit suicide," Vance says.

 

While neither Dore's attorneys nor prosecutors will comment on a possible plea bargain, Dore says he was offered a deal whereby the district attorney would have dropped the other charges if he had pled guilty to one count of kidnapping. Prosecutors told him he would be out of prison "in a few years" under that scenario, but Dore is convinced he wouldn't survive a prison term of any length. He believes a combination of poor medical care and bad food would destroy what's left of his health and that he would be an easy target for other prisoners.

"When I was in jail, people threatened to beat me up," he says. "If somebody punched me, I couldn't do anything." Asked what he'll do if he is sent to prison, Dore says, "I don't want to talk about it."

Vance says if Dore is convicted on the kidnapping charges, the minimum-sentencing laws passed by the legislature will make it impossible to keep him out of prison. Even if a judge wants to go easy on Dore after considering the circumstances of his case, Vance notes, the law makes that impossible.

Defense attorneys can be expected to make the pain Dore lived with an issue at trial. "Focus on the Family's magazine actually had an article on how badly pain is managed by doctors," says Vance. "Kerry was definitely in constant pain. It never went away, and pain just drives you crazy."

In March Dore's public defenders requested a change of venue out of Colorado Springs. They argued that with more than 1,300 employees and numerous ties to the local news media--Dobson writes a weekly column for the Gazette and his radio show is broadcast on four local stations--Focus on the Family has such a commanding presence in El Paso County that Dore couldn't receive a fair trial. The motion was denied.

The district attorney's office insists that Dore can receive a fair trial in Colorado Springs. "I made the analogy that if somebody shot someone at Martin Marietta, everybody in Denver knows somebody who works there, but they could still get a fair trial," says Dan May, the assistant district attorney who will prosecute Dore.

Vance recently left the El Paso County public defender's office to work as a public defender in Brighton, and Dore will be represented by two other attorneys in the Colorado Springs office. Dore is upset that his legal team changed just weeks before the trial is set to begin, and he fears his case is all but doomed.

"You can see where this thing is headed," he says. "I don't have a chance. Focus on the Family is in total control of this thing."

Dore says he plans to write famed Wyoming defense attorney Gerry Spence and ask for his help. But for now, Dore has lost his faith--and not just in the legal system.

"On St. Patrick's Day I went to Mass," he says. "The priest did this sermon and never even mentioned St. Patrick. I can't relate to it anymore. They're out of touch. I just don't know what I'm going to do now."

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