The Greeley sniper's shot was on target last September 24, hitting teenager Joe Gallegos just below his Adam's apple. Blood gushed from his back where the bullet left his body. The day had been bloody enough: Gallegos had killed three people 400 miles away, including one who had tried to lead him to Jesus. Three hostages huddled inside a University of Northern Colorado dorm room while a SWAT team tried to kick in, and then shoot, the door. They were worried that Gallegos still had some fight left in him.
Joe Gallegos always had some fight in him. A hometown district attorney months before had called Gallegos "predatory." His girlfriend, who decided she'd had enough of his intense possessiveness, had ended their summer romance a couple of weeks before. "He was so angry so much of the time," Heidi Hocker says now.
But the juvenile-justice system had ignored clear indications of trouble before that bloody day, had billed him a "model citizen" and had released him from custody.
Some of the people still in the system say this tragedy could never have been predicted, that everybody was doing his job, that in the end society can blame only Joe Gallegos for the tragedy. The pastor who was paid to take care of him blamed rap music. His ex-girlfriend blamed drugs. The director of the Division of Youth Corrections says that a recent internal audit finds no blame and that he has nothing to hide, but he adds that he can't release the audit on the advice of the attorney general. A few justice-system insiders, however, say that those working close to Gallegos ignored warning signs and failed to communicate important facts about him. They say much of the bureaucratic talk now about the case is just a whitewash. "There was some spin put on this after it happened," says a source who worked on the Gallegos case but asked not to be named because of the small-town nature of the system.
It's too bad there wasn't more talk about Gallegos while he was still locked up. Cortez police chief Roy Lane says that if anybody had asked him whether Gallegos should be released from a juvenile lockup, he would have opposed it. But nobody asked him, even though he knew Gallegos longer than anybody else in the criminal-justice system. Lane first met ten-year-old Joseph in a police-sponsored softball league. Lane was his coach. "He was a good kid back in those days," Lane says. It was a short period.
By the time Joseph Gallegos was thirteen, Roy Lane started hearing reports that the boy had been caught drinking in a school parking lot. Lane says reports about Gallegos increased in frequency and intensity. The first crimes were against property; he was caught in or suspected of various acts of vandalism and shoplifting. Police records show that before long, his victims switched from property to people. The principal of Montezuma-Cortez High School expelled the sophomore because he had set a friend's jeans on fire. That gave Gallegos more time to drink, and some who knew him think that's when he started learning about drugs. He boasted that he could make crystal methamphetamine, or "crank." While friends he made later on claimed Gallegos learned to make crank while he was an inmate in a juvenile lockup, Lane says there's a good chance he learned it right in Cortez. "Most of the boys that go up there know about it to begin with," Lane says. "Their skills might get refined a bit." Others who knew him say they heard that Gallegos's eyes lit up when he talked about people he had beaten up. (Gallegos's family could not be reached for comment.)
Gallegos grew to an athletic six-foot-one as his crimes escalated in violence. In one instance, according to court records, he stole a truck from a friend and crashed it. Another time he stole a backhoe from a construction site and crashed that, too. Another time he went to the home of a local teenager after midnight and knocked on his window. When the boy's face appeared in the window, a friend of Gallegos's threw a brick through the glass. Gallegos then climbed in through the broken window and tackled the boy, pinning him to the ground. Crouching over the boy, Gallegos slashed his face with a broken beer bottle. That victim left the state, and charges were never filed.
Gallegos got probation for some of the other violations. At least three times when he was on probation, he was given a sentence of "concurrent probation," which essentially meant that he faced no penalty for the new crimes. "They obviously gave him a few opportunities," says Frank Minkner, western regional director for the state Division of Youth Corrections.
After getting caught stealing a truck while on probation, Gallegos was sent away for the first time to a "boot camp" for juvenile offenders. He was in one of the first classes of boys to go through the sixty-day para-military training at a Lookout Mountain camp near Golden.
While his violent tendencies were not wiped away in the boot camp, he may have learned a perverse kind of patriotism. Not long after being released from the boot-camp program, he was hanging out in the parking lot of Cortez's only supermarket on a Saturday night. Witnesses told police that Gallegos saw a college student who was a native of Saudi Arabia going to buy groceries. Gallegos shouted something about how the man was a terrorist here to plant bombs and ran after him. Gallegos tackled him, crouched over him--as he had previous victims--and beat his face with a beer bottle. When police picked up Gallegos at the scene, he bragged about the attack. An official close to the case says Gallegos boasted, "I tracked him down and I finished him."
Gallegos was found guilty of the assault and was sentenced to two years in the custody of the state Division of Youth Corrections. He was initially sent to the equivalent of a penitentiary for a seventeen-year-old from the Western Slope: Grand Mesa Detention Center for juveniles in Grand Junction. He was there four months.
Officials decided to try another rehabilitation experiment on him, sending him to a two-month wilderness experience in Utah. After that, he went to a halfway house in Grand Junction. His caseworker from the Division of Youth Corrections refuses to comment on the case, but other employees of the juvenile system who worked with him say Gallegos was good at appearing to meet the goals of various programs. He did the little things--like folding his clothes or making his bed without being asked--that caseworkers liked to brag about.
After Gallegos made his bed at the halfway house for four months, his caseworkers proposed him for the Jacob Center, another experimental program that has had success in rehabilitating some juvenile offenders. The theory behind the Jacob Center, a private, nonprofit agency, is that a youth should come back to his own community to deal directly with victims, family problems, substance abuse and all the other "underlying problems." The actual residences of the Jacob Center are homes of families who are supposed to have enough training and experience to handle a sometimes violent felon. The population varies, but there are never more than a dozen juveniles in such homes on the Western Slope.
Before a juvenile can get into a proctor home with the Jacob Center, he or she has to be approved by a Community Evaluation Team (CET). The group is meant to be representative of various local agencies so that a good placement is made and the community is protected.
In the case of Cortez, that's exactly what happened. In early April 1996 the town's Community Evaluation Team considered a placement for Joe Gallegos and rejected him, although just why he was turned down is now a matter of some controversy. The official line after the Gallegos murders is that there were no Jacob Center proctor homes available in Cortez. But some people who attended the team's meeting say it was clear that Cortez officials didn't want this violent youth in their community; if he had been less of a risk, they might have been able to find a proctor home for him. "We didn't feel he would be a good risk to be in Cortez--or out in society in general," then-district attorney George Buck says. Although he was not at the meeting, Buck says, he made sure the team knew his opinion.
Jacob Center officials did not heed that warning, but it's unclear why, because they have refused to comment on the case. In any event, they began shopping Gallegos around, hoping to get a placement and the $65 per day that comes with it. Within weeks his case was brought to the Durango Community Evaluation Team. According to people present at the meeting, nobody on the Durango team knew about Gallegos's past and so depended on Jacob Center director Jerry Fields for information. Fields, who is no longer director of the Jacob Center, won't comment, saying only, "I have nothing to say."
At the time, the Durango CET okayed Gallegos for placement. Since the murders, that team has refused to answer any questions. The members did issue a press release: "When tragedy strikes our community at the hand of a young person that has been seen by the Team, we share the grief across the disciplines we all work in. We ask ourselves if we missed something or what we could have done to prevent the tragedy. Sadly, sometimes there are no answers." The press release does not say if this is one of those times. Some current and former members of the team say the answer is easy: They knew too little about Joseph Gallegos.
Rich Yeager, the team member representing the school district, says his recollection of the Gallegos meeting is that it was routine. "He was not presented as a higher risk than the typical kid that we see from Grand Mesa," says Yeager.
Kyle Ipson, a former member of the team who left just before the Gallegos case came up, says that from what he knows of the case, he wasn't surprised that the Durango team didn't get crucial information on Gallegos. Ipson, who was the representative from the Durango DA's office, says he grew tired of listening to Fields's appeals on behalf of juvenile offenders. As far as Ipson was concerned, Fields was more interested in getting placement fees. He says Fields argued that proctor homes were cheaper than incarceration. "He was always trying to pull the wool over everybody's eyes," Ipson says. "He would talk very specifically about the costs [of incarceration]. That was a big deal to Jerry, because that was money out of his budget."
But Ipson wasn't at that meeting, and those who were approved the placement of Joe Gallegos with a God-fearing family near the town of Bayfield.
Jeb and Kris Bryant say God runs their lives. He helped them find each other while they were going to school in Maryland. He led them to the Calvary Chapel School of Ministry in Southern California. He brought them to southwestern Colorado, where they started a Calvary Chapel church in the Bayfield Elementary School basement. "That's just where God wanted us to be," Kris Bryant says. God also helped them find a small ranch with a double-wide trailer on the Buck Highway, a county road that connects Bayfield and Ignacio, two rural La Plata County towns east of Durango. The Bryants run some cattle during the summer, and they keep horses, sheep, goats and chickens. They also breed dogs for sale.
Back in California, the Bryants had taken in teens from time to time, so when they heard about the Jacob Center, it seemed like a natural fit; they could take juveniles into their home as they had in the past. If the boys were interested, they would hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Because the boys had to stay under their supervision, they had to go to church, but they didn't have to sit in the same room where the worship services were taking place. The Bryants were also paid about $600 per month for each placement, of which they had as many as four at one time. Sometimes that covered the expenses for things like food, clothing and transportation to various appointments, says Kris Bryant, and sometimes it didn't.
Jeb Bryant says he agrees with critics who say the juvenile-justice system is driven by budgetary concerns. "I think the system is motivated by finances more than caring about kids, the way they move them around all the time," he says. "They're like stockbrokers, making a commission each time they move a kid."
In April 1996 Gallegos moved into the Bryants' home. Even though Gallegos was still officially in the custody of the Division of Youth Corrections and was in the first year of a sentence for felony assault, nobody told Bayfield marshal Jim Harrington, Ignacio police chief Pete Gonzales or La Plata County sheriff Duke Schirard of the new arrival. Harrington knows just about everybody who can cause trouble--of which there is not much--in or near his quiet town of 1,400, but he never heard of Gallegos until it was too late. "The first time I heard the name Joe Gallegos is when a Greeley police officer called me," Harrington says. There is no requirement that the Division of Youth Corrections notify local authorities when placing a client, although the Department of Corrections tells local officials when it is releasing adult prisoners--even when they haven't been convicted of violent crimes.
Jeb and Kris Bryant say they were not worried. "[Jacob Center officials] called him their poster child," Kris Bryant says, adding that he lived up to his billing: He did all of his chores around the house with great diligence; he even straightened out the other Jacob Center boys living in the home and would tell her if one of them had brought drugs into the home. "Joe would tell on them every time," Kris Bryant says. "He was the best kid we ever had."
He also seemed to embrace the Bryants' new church and attended Sunday services, Saturday morning Young Men's Accountability Group, prayer meetings on Monday and Friday nights and teen Bible study on Wednesday nights. Saturday nights they would get together to watch a video of a film friendly to their Christian values, such as Chariots of Fire. "We pretty much have something every day of the week," Kris Bryant says.
It was in one of those meetings that Gallegos met Josh Turville, a twenty-year-old who a generation earlier would have been known as a "Jesus freak." He had shaggy, brownish hair and a scruffy beard and could lead a group in Christian songs on his guitar for hours.
Turville and Gallegos quickly became constant companions. Turville got his strong, young friend a job working with him building homes. When the two were not working or in a church meeting, they climbed rocks, swam or went to Navajo Lake to jump off rocks into the cool water. The Bryants let Gallegos go with Turville to do things they never knew about, even though such freedom of movement--and participation in dangerous activities such as cliff-jumping--was technically against Jacob Center rules. It was a privilege that Kris Bryant says she didn't extend to the other juveniles in her home. "He was so trustworthy that we let him do anything," she says. That included cooking up crystal meth on the Bryants' stove without their knowledge, as his ex-girlfriend later told Greeley police.
With no prison in southwestern Colorado, the Bryants and Turville were following the instructions in Matthew 25 by ministering to prisoners who happened to be "incarcerated" in the Bryants' mobile home. Nobody doubts the sincerity of the Bryants' and Turville's faith, but in the wake of the tragedy that followed, a few people questioned whether they were equipped to handle a violent felon like Gallegos. "They come from the school that if you just love kids enough, they'll be okay, and what you really need are people who are extremely reality-based," says one person involved in the juvenile system and familiar with the Gallegos case. "Kids who go through this system are extremely sophisticated, and they just eat up people like that."
Joe Gallegos told the Bryants and Turville that they had helped turn his life around. Then he met another person who turned it upside down.
The winsome daughter of a local contractor, Heidi Hocker wanted to finish Ignacio High School early, so she signed up to do a special senior project that would get her the credits she needed. She knew and liked Jeb Bryant, so she asked him to be her project advisor. It was while working on that project one night at the Bryants' home that she first met Joe Gallegos. He was quiet at first, and very polite, but she wasn't immediately impressed. "He was nice," she recalls, "but it wasn't anything special at first."
She also knew Turville and says she respected and trusted him. "Josh was great. He could make you laugh about anything," Hocker says. "You could tell him anything." Mostly because of Turville, Hocker became part of the church's youth group that met so often in the summer after she graduated from Ignacio High. She even went to Navajo Lake when the boys would go cliff-jumping, though she never jumped. "I was always too scared," she says.
Gallegos did not spend all of his time in prayer. Hocker says he started focusing his attention on her, buying her flowers, always opening doors for her and telling her how much he thought of her. Jeb Bryant says he encouraged her to date Gallegos, which she did. With her help, he even got a job at a pizza parlor owned by her father. "We were together all the time, every day," Hocker says.
She says she was not his first girlfriend, but from what he told her about previous ones, she was the first one whom Gallegos didn't abuse in one way or another. "He just pretty much used them," she says, but she didn't feel used. While he often told her he loved her, she says, she never told him she loved him. "I'm a really independent person," she says, and even before any trouble started, she could feel Gallegos trying to wrap his arms around her entire life. "He couldn't control me, and that made him really angry."
The Bryants encouraged the summer romance within the parameters of an unmarried Christian relationship. "We felt like they were a good influence on each other," Kris Bryant says.
As the summer drew to a close, Hocker made plans to move to Greeley to attend college, where her goal was to become a history teacher. It was also a convenient way to end the relationship with Gallegos, whose attentions were charming at first but had grown smothering. She knew about his violent past and what he had told her about domestic violence in his family, but he never struck her, she says; he just tried to tell her how she should live her life. His view, she adds, was that most of her life should revolve around him. "He was constantly, like, trying to control me," Hocker says. "I just got sick of it."
At about the same time that Hocker was moving up to Greeley, Gallegos became eligible for parole, having finished half of his two-year sentence. People lined up to support Gallegos, including Bryant and Turville, who wrote letters to the parole board urging his release. Jeb Bryant was more than willing to write such a letter; he says Gallegos had "accepted Jesus in his heart as his personal lord and savior."
Supporting Gallegos in person at the Denver meeting was Paul Thornton, his Jacob Center case manager. Thornton told reporters after the murders that, at the time of the parole-board meeting, Gallegos had even offered to speak to school groups about how to stay out of trouble and that Thornton was going to set that up. (Thornton now refuses to answer any questions about the case.)
With so many positive comments, the Juvenile Parole Board meeting in Denver voted 4-0 to release Gallegos from the custody of the Division of Youth Corrections, which meant he was free to leave the Bryants' home. After his parole he would have much more freedom, although he was supposed to be under a set of restrictions. He was paroled to live with Turville, in a home overlooking Bayfield High School. The parole board had a letter from Turville stating that he was excited to have Gallegos in his home. It all seemed like a perfect arrangement to Jeb Bryant, who says Turville told him that Gallegos had been an effective recruiter for church youth-group activities. "Joe liked Josh," says Bryant. "They were friends. He was Josh's right-hand man."
The parole board ignored the only negative comments, which came from the district attorney's office in Cortez--the same office that had opposed Gallegos's placement in a proctor home. Those comments came in a letter from Patrick Sheeran, at the time a deputy DA from Cortez. He says today that he remembers wanting to use the strongest language he could--the strongest language he has ever used--to try to scuttle the parole. He wrote: "He has consistently shown no regard for the welfare of others. I have a serious concern for the safety of the public, as Mr. Gallegos, over the years, has acted in a predatory manner with no compassion for his innocent 'prey.'"
Josh Turville's home on the hill in Bayfield was part of the reason he felt God wanted him there, his parents say. It was owned by a friend from California, the same friend who had introduced him to Jeb Bryant. When that friend took a job in New Mexico and offered the place to Turville, the young man told his parents it was a sign not to be ignored. While the small house had only two bedrooms, Turville always had space. When two of his friends from El Modena High School in Orange County called and said they were considering moving to Colorado because of the promise of good jobs, Turville encouraged them to come and stay with him.
Near the beginning of September, John Lara and Steven Bates did just that. Turville moved stacks of Bibles, religious pamphlets and tapes of Christian music and sermons out of the spare bedroom so that his friends could move in. While the three men, all age twenty, had known each other since the fourth grade, the two newcomers did not share Turville's intense interest in the Bryants' church. Lara and Bates weren't planning to stay long. They told their parents they planned to move out soon after arriving. They put money down on an apartment in Durango and were planning to leave Turville's by the end of September.
A week or so after his friends moved in, Turville told them that another young man would be joining them. Joe Gallegos, his constant companion at church functions, was granted parole and would move out of the Bryants' home and into Turville's laundry room, which could be converted into a bedroom. Kris Bryant says Lara and Bates didn't have any problem with adding a housemate, especially because they were moving out in a couple of weeks anyway.
So the reality of parole didn't change Gallegos's life much. He was working the same job and attending the same activities with Turville. Instead of living with his pastor, he was living with his youth-group leader.
While parole didn't change his life, losing Hocker did. As a parolee, Gallegos was under some restrictions, but he broke most of them in what police and friends realized later was an obsession with Hocker. Only after the carnage, when Jeb Bryant found among Gallegos's personal belongings a clipped news article detailing a hostage situation, did he realize that the boy he had vouched for may have been planning a rampage. "I was shocked," Bryant says. "I didn't want to believe it."
While living with either the Bryants or Turville, authorities say, Gallegos got a nine-millimeter semi-automatic Ruger handgun, stolen a month earlier during a "smash and grab" from a Cortez hardware store. He still had plenty of friends from his days of hanging out in Cortez, and police say it was through one of them that he got the gun. Police would like to ask the main suspect in that burglary if he sold a gun to Gallegos, but he won't be answering any more questions: He used another one of the stolen guns to kill himself, according to Cortez police.
Under his parole, Gallegos wasn't supposed to have a gun, or even leave Bayfield without permission, but he made at least three trips--each a sixteen-hour round-trip drive--to see Heidi Hocker in Greeley. "Jeb didn't mind," Hocker says. "They didn't think he needed to follow all those stupid rules."
Hours after his parole hearing in Denver, Gallegos dropped by the Agape House in Greeley. A counselor at the Christian center later told police that he came asking questions about a "Christian friend" who was a student at UNC. "She is easily influenced, and I'm afraid she's getting in with the wrong crowd," Gallegos told her, urging the counselor to contact Hocker but not to use his name. She told police that he seemed like a nice, concerned friend.
Students at the University of Northern Colorado had a different impression. They called him "Crazy Joe" because he would crash parties looking for Hocker and would threaten to beat up anybody who dared to interfere, even when Hocker herself made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with him. Some other students saw letters that Joe had written to Heidi with lines such as "I can see your unborn children in your eyes." Yet other students remember Gallegos offering to sell crystal methampthetamine.
At a party in Greeley, Gallegos saw Hocker talking to a male student, and his anger emerged. Hocker says he grabbed her by the arm, took her outside and then forced her to the ground, crouching over her. He didn't use a beer bottle on her, as he had on other victims, but he did slap her and tell her never to talk to other men. Some other students arrived and Gallegos let her go. Some of the boys were ready to fight Gallegos, but Hocker discouraged that. "I told them I don't like fighting," she says. Why didn't she call police? Hocker says she knew it could jeopardize his parole, and she was hoping he would just move on with his life in Bayfield. "Guys had done stupid things to me before," she says, "but it didn't really worry me, because they finally got the hint."
Gallegos didn't. "He would leave like 4,000 messages on my machine," Hocker says. And the Bryants were shocked when their phone bill included hundreds of dollars' worth of calls to Greeley. But that was another clue that would come too late.
In addition to the article about a hostage situation, Gallegos kept photocopies of two articles from the Denver Post about domestic violence. Found with the articles was a handwritten list titled "Why Women Stay." The list, in Gallegos's handwriting, appears to enumerate reasons that women stay in abusive relationships, including "thinks it was 'natural' OK to hit someone you love to 'correct' them." Reason No. 4 on Gallegos's list: "Fear--threats--if she reports it to the police, he takes revenge--she'll deny abuse when questioned--give excuses--scared man might lose job."
Reason No. 5 was similar to what Hocker said about her abuse: "Don't see themselves as bothered--they don't think 'outsiders' should interfere."
The Bryants say they knew about the breakup, but from what Gallegos told them, they thought he was okay. Early on, he told the Bryants that he wanted to stay with her because she needed him to help her stay clean and remain a Christian. Later, though, he told them he was done with her. Kris Bryant remembers what he said: "It's going to drag me down, too. I'm just going to cut it off." In reality, though, his obsession just grew, and he made another trip to Greeley when he had a pass only to see his family in Cortez.
He drove to Greeley but returned to Cortez Saturday night, which is when the Bryants believe he started using drugs again. "We know he had a brain allergy to drugs, and they just really affected him," Kris Bryant says.
Still, he made it to Bayfield Elementary School in time for the 10:30 a.m. services the next day. Jeb Bryant noticed that he was pacing back and forth and seemed "quiet, despondent and wound up." Bryant says he thought it was money trouble and told him he would give him some money at Bible study Monday night. Bryant says he found out only later that Gallegos had tried to sell his gun for $100 to other members of the youth group. In a statement to police, Bryant said a youth-group member told him that day that Gallegos was "stalking" Heidi, but like Heidi, he didn't call police or probation officers.
One of those in the youth group was Dublin Wilmer, a seventeen-year-old boy from Bayfield who was sentenced by juvenile authorities to live in the Bryants' home following his involvement in a fight. Wilmer also started attending the church, and he says it was made clear to him that if he could just be as good as Gallegos, he would start getting some of the privileges that Gallegos enjoyed.
After the services that Sunday morning, Wilmer says, he and Gallegos started driving around Ignacio and Durango. "He said he was upset about his girlfriend cheating on him, so we went cruising for babes, basically," Wilmer says, adding that Gallegos told him, "It's the first time I ever fall in love, and now this."
Wilmer says that after he and Gallegos returned to the Turville house, Gallegos went into his room and emerged with the Ruger. Wilmer asked him if he was worried about violating parole. "He said, 'Nobody's going to find out, are they?' and I said, 'Nobody's going to find out from me,'" recalls Wilmer.
The next day, September 23, a Monday, Gallegos didn't show up for his construction job, another parole violation--but officials say they received no notification from Turville or anyone else.
That night Gallegos called Hocker. She says it was like other talks they had had: He pleaded for a reconciliation, and she told him to move on with his life. "I told him I kissed another boy," she recalls, "and he just totally freaked out."
Just after midnight, Joe Gallegos was smoldering. Instead of picking one of the Christian-music tapes or some of the rap music he had hidden in his bedroom, he put on a tape soundtrack to The Crying Game and started playing the title cut, a song by Boy George about relationships gone bad.
Investigators in La Plata County never were able to piece together the exact order of what happened next, but the best guess from the coroner and others who visited the scene is that Gallegos first went to the kitchen, where he unhooked the telephone receiver and hid it in a drawer.
He then grabbed a knife and the Ruger and went into the bedroom where Turville was asleep and Lara was working at a computer. A blanket was pulled over Turville's head, perhaps to keep out the noise and light of Lara's work. Gallegos walked between the computer and the bed, put a gun up against Turville's right cheek and pulled the trigger. The bullet exited the left side of his neck. Gallegos then pressed the gun against Turville's forehead and fired again. That bullet lodged against the back of his skull.
Authorities theorize that Lara saw what happened, turned to get away, was shot on the left side of his head and fell to his knees. The bullet exited on the right side, without having penetrated the skull. Another shot, the one that killed him, entered his forehead and ended up in his chest. Officials aren't sure which bullet came first. Lara could have fallen to his knees out of fear and may have been shot in the forehead before being shot in the left side of the head while already slumped to the floor.
The rest of the events in the house are also open to conjecture. But speculation is that Bates, who was in another room, may have gone to the phone, found it disabled and then picked up a two-foot-long piece of steel before entering the bedroom, ready to fight. The steel rod was something a construction worker would have access to, but investigators don't know why it was in the house. Bates's father, Richard Bates, can only guess that his son sensed trouble before that night. "Maybe he was concerned about this kid ahead of time," Richard Bates says.
Steven Bates never got to use the weapon. He was shot once as he stepped through the door. The bullet hit him in the left cheek, ripping out the top of his spinal cord before exiting through the right side of his neck. His body slumped down next to Turville's guitar.
Investigators say another scenario is possible: Lara and Bates may have been away getting pizza when Turville was shot. In that case, Lara wouldn't have known Turville was dead on the bed when he started working at the computer and wouldn't have known what was coming when Gallegos walked to a spot on the other side of the computer.
Gallegos also slit Lara's throat after he'd shot him twice, took a blood-soaked pillow from under Turville's head and put it on top of Lara's head. Investigators speculate that he may have been trying to conceal groans or gurgling sounds.
After killing all three young men, Gallegos ripped the phone out of the wall in the bedroom, grabbed the keys to Turville's Toyota 4-Runner, stepped over Bates's body in the doorway of the bedroom, put the knife in a drawer in the bathroom and left Bayfield for the last time.
The drive from Bayfield to Greeley runs nearly 400 miles over several high mountain passes. There are also two long, flat stretches going up the San Luis Valley and then across South Park. The 35 miles from Center to Saguache is as flat and straight as a yardstick, with nothing to distinguish one mile from the next. The adrenaline undoubtedly flowing through Joe Gallegos after he killed Turville, Bates and Lara eventually would have faded. Gallegos kept it going, however, by gobbling one pill after another from a stash in his coat pocket. The over-the-counter pills were an asthma medication with ephedrine as the main ingredient; they are popular with weightlifters trying to get "up" for a workout. Ephedrine is also a key ingredient in crank, police say. The other parts, such as ethyl alcohol, are easily available. Hocker says she thinks that Joe Gallegos did some crank on Saturday when he got back to Cortez and that he was in withdrawal from it when he became so violent in Bayfield two nights later.
Gallegos also kept himself awake listening to rap music. In the Toyota's tape deck was Season of Da Siccness, an album by Brotha Lynch Hung, an obscure, underground gangsta rapper. Gallegos reportedly had told some friends that his favorite song was "Locc 2 da brain." It was a far cry from the music Kris Bryant says Gallegos liked to listen to around the house. She recalls that his favorite tape was Your Holiness Surrounds Me, a collection of easy-listening songs with Christian lyrics. Jeb Bryant blames rap music for practically the entire incident, saying, "I talk about rap music as a disease on society."
Long after the Gallegos murders, when Josh Turville's family came to pick up the Toyota, Josh's father, Steve, turned the key in the ignition, and rap music blared at full blast. His wife, Mary, was standing nearby. "I thought it sounded like something out of the pit of Hell," she says.
As dawn broke Tuesday, Joe Gallegos drove over the foothills into the Front Range metropolis and headed north to Greeley. The only people who knew something might be wrong were turning cold in Bayfield.
Gallegos arrived in Greeley mid-morning and walked without incident to the fourth floor of McCowen Hall on the UNC campus. He knocked on Hocker's door, and when her roommate, Elizabeth Rieboldt, answered, he pushed his way in, she later told police. Heidi was gone; she was giving some privacy to Rieboldt and her boyfriend. Gallegos paced around the small room for a few moments and asked for a pop, saying he was thirsty. They gave him one, and he reached into his pocket and took more pills. The two scared students asked what they were. "They're my crazy pills," he replied. By the end of the day, he would take forty times the maximum recommended number of pills, according to a toxicology report.
When he left the room to look for Heidi, Rieboldt called her--she was in a friend's room--to tell her "Crazy Joe" was here and he looked like hell.
"I was like, 'Oh, no--why is he annoying me so much?'" Hocker recalls. She came back to her room and waited with her roommate and the boyfriend for Gallegos to return. She says she didn't feel threatened enough to call police or even alert campus security, because she was planning to just tell him to go away.
But when Gallegos walked in the room, she says, she knew this confrontation would be different. His eyes stabbed all corners of the room. He paced aimlessly and brushed his short hair back with his hand over and over and over. He told her what he'd been thinking about in his sleepless night alone on the road: She had taken his life away by breaking up with him, so he was going to take her life away. He showed her the gun and said he wanted to shoot her in the backbone so that she would have to live out her life "squirming around."
Hocker says her strategy at that point was just to calm him down. She told him that he didn't want to do anything to get into trouble now. After all, he'd just been paroled and was out of trouble. "Not really, because I just killed my three roommates," Hocker recalls him saying. It was then that she noticed dried blood on the gun.
She asked him why he did it, and he said it was because he was going crazy. He pulled out the tape to The Crying Game and played the first song, saying that he had played the song the night before when he shot Josh and the two others. Hocker says this was when she realized her life was in serious danger, but she regarded him more as suicidal than homicidal: She believed him when he told her he was going to die that day. Hocker just wanted to figure out how to survive, so she agreed to his request that she write out a goodbye letter to his father. She wrote for him: "Dear Dad, Right now you've probably heard about what happened. I'm sorry. I wish I could have seen you again. Make sure you get my car. The key's are at Jess. I love you a lot, and I'm sorry for putting you through so much pain." He then wrote in his own hand: "I love you so much and I am really sorry." He signed it and gave her $185. She took the money and the letter and put them in an envelope.
Hocker says all she wanted to do was get away, so she talked him into letting her leave the room to use the bathroom. She went instead to 452, the room of Jennifer Seekamp, the resident assistant for her floor. "I was worried he was going to shoot me in the back as I walked down the hall," Hocker says.
She went in, locked the door and quickly apprised Seekamp and three other girls of the situation. One of the girls got on the phone and dialed 911. Seekamp looked through the peephole of the door and saw Gallegos standing just outside the door, she later told police. She looked again, and when she didn't see him there, said she wanted to check on the status of Hocker's roommate and her boyfriend. Before anybody could stop her, she unlocked and opened the door. The moment Seekamp opened the door, she found Joe Gallegos standing there silently.
Room 452 was no bigger than the other dorm rooms. Because it housed a resident assistant, it had just one bed instead of two. Even with one bed, though, it was a little crowded when Gallegos walked in. There were, in addition to Seekamp and Hocker, three other female freshmen--Ginny Mansfield, Robin Adams and Lara Von Tersch. Adams had been on the phone to the health center because she had a stomachache, but she had hung up and dialed 911 when Hocker came in the room and told them about Gallegos and the gun. According to Von Tersch, Gallegos asked Adams if she was calling the cops. She lied and said she was on the phone to the health center about her stomach. Gallegos pointed the gun at her midsection and said, "You want me to fix that for you?" He then accused them of calling the cops.
He turned to Hocker, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, and said, "You just had to go and make things worse." That's when he fired the gun for the first time since Bayfield. A bullet tore through the arch of her right foot and sandal. Blood splattered, but it did not gush from the hole. The other women in the room later said they were amazed that Hocker didn't either scream or pass out. She just held her leg, rocked back and forth and in a quiet voice said, "Ow, ouch, ow."
It was the only noise in the room, Von Tersch says, until Gallegos again accused the girls of calling the cops. They denied it again and then heard a voice in the hallway. Gallegos said it was a cop. The RA, Seekamp, said, "I'll go check." She said, "Look, they are arresting someone else down the hall." (She was right. The police ordered Elizabeth Reiboldt and her boyfriend to put their arms in the air when they emerged from Hocker's room.) Gallegos ordered Seekamp to come back. She asked why and called his bluff. He ordered her to stop, but she just kept walking. Gallegos shut the door, and the number of hostages dropped to four.
In the next four hours, room 452 became a crime epicenter. Greeley's SWAT team assembled in the dorm, and the phone line to room 452 was hooked up so that as soon as somebody picked up the receiver it would ring to a negotiator. News helicopters hovered overhead while national networks and newspapers scrambled to get somebody to Greeley.
The hostages say they feared for their lives the entire time, but the room became a surreal place, with some periods of laughter and sympathy. Lara Von Tersch--who has always wanted to be an FBI agent--says there were calm moments and glimmers of charm and even tenderness from their captor. "He would go from being angry to being the nicest guy I've ever met in my life," Von Tersch says.
From time to time he would walk away from his gun, at one point putting it down and going around a corner to pee in a cup. Von Tersch remembers Hocker whispering to her, "Pick up the gun and shoot him." She thought about it, her mind racing to consider whether she would have time to throw the gun out the window or if she would be able to shoot him. She decided against it; she had never shot a handgun and, besides, she didn't know if she could look at Joe Gallegos and pull the trigger. "I knew him," Von Tersch says. "If I hadn't known this guy, I probably could have done it. I knew who he was. I felt sorry for him."
Gallegos apparently hadn't clipped enough articles about hostage situations. He didn't get the idea of making demands, Von Tersch says, until she and Robin Adams figured out that it would be a good way to get the third freshman, Mansfield, out of the room, because she was not holding up well to the overwhelming pressure. The girls came up with the demanded items: pop because they were thirsty, cigarettes and matches because they had run out of the ones Gallegos had shared with them. Gallegos came up with the suggestion of pain pills for Hocker. "We wanted to make it something easy for the cops," Von Tersch says. "We didn't want to demand $20,000. But I guess it was really hard for the cops, because it took them really long to get us the pop."
Adams had been doing the talking with Gallegos's approval, but Mansfield eventually picked up the phone and, according to Von Tersch, made it clear to the police: They didn't even need to send the stuff right away, they just needed to agree to send it. Just say yes, she told them. She then handed the phone to Gallegos and after a few moments, the negotiator told him what he wanted to hear, and Gallegos told Mansfield she could leave. The authorities later sent some pop up in a backpack attached to a series of extension cords and rope because Gallegos didn't want to open the door. Von Tersch remembers it like this: "It took them forever. They sent up a six-pack of pop, and he was pissed. There was no painkiller, no cigarettes and there was no lighter. He called them back and said, 'I put my trust in you and all you sent me was this bullshit. I'm giving you ten minutes, and if you don't send up those cigarettes and a lighter, I'm throwing one of these girls out the window.'"
After he said that, he turned and put on the smile that had won him trust so many times in the past. He told them he was just joking, just trying to scare the negotiators.
While the cops were scrambling around trying to find cigarettes--they eventually bummed a couple off a student--they were also on the phone to Jeb Bryant and the Bayfield marshal's office. The race to Turville's house was on. Bryant, who arrived first, recalls that he knew something was wrong as soon as he arrived and found the door locked, which it never had been before. He went in through the garage and made the sepulchral discovery. Marshal Harrington says he arrived just as an ashen-faced Bryant was walking out of the home.
When Harrington confirmed that there were three bodies inside, tension among Greeley police officers escalated exponentially. "It was clear the situation was deteriorating," says Sergeant John Gates, a spokesman for the Greeley Police Department. Before that, they had been treating Gallegos like a lovesick teenager. After the news came from Bayfield, they thought of him as a man willing to use deadly force.
Tension also escalated inside room 452. When the cigarettes came with no matches, Gallegos started swearing and tearing the room apart looking for some kind of lighter. He found an iron, plugged it in and told Von Tersch to light the cigarette with that. "So I'm holding this red hot iron two inches from my face looking at this guy," she recalls, "and I'm saying, 'It's not working.'"
Hocker, meanwhile, was in pain but quiet. When Gallegos got back on the phone with police, he yelled at them for not sending painkillers. He held the phone out in her direction and told her to talk. Von Tersch and Adams urged her to scream so that they would know how much pain she was in. Von Tersch disputes newspaper reports at the time that the hostages were "begging" for their lives. "We weren't begging for our lives," she says. "We were begging for painkillers for Heidi."
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.
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.
The reports don't recount what happened next, but Von Tersch remembers every second. She says the officers started screaming through the open door, "Where are you? Where is the gun?" By then, they knew that a sniper had fired a shot at Gallegos, which meant that he was probably at least injured; but they also saw the chunks of cinderblock missing from the wall across from the door, as well as four holes in a tight circle in the door. The first officer cautiously stepped into the room, yelling, "I don't see the gun. I don't see the gun. Oh, shit. Oh, shit. I don't see [pause] There's the gun. [Shouting] There's the gun!" Then he pulled Gallegos away from the gun, put one foot on his back below the gaping wound and held a gun to his head. Another officer handcuffed him. At that point, however, Gallegos had no more fight left in him.
Josh Turville, John Lara and Steven Bates went back to California in caskets, Durango morticians having done all they could to repair bullet holes in their heads. Turville's parents say their son is now with Jesus, and they forgive Gallegos. "God is a sovereign god," Mary Turville says.
The other parents aren't as willing to see it as fate. "It's still a mystery to us how the system broke down," Richard Bates says. He and his wife, Anita, had planned to retire to southwestern Colorado, where they own ten acres. Now those plans are on hold. "We're not sure what's going to happen now," Anita Bates says.
John Lara Jr. talked to a lawyer, but once the lawyer explained the concept of governmental immunity, he pretty much dropped all thoughts of a lawsuit. But he hasn't dropped his anger toward the authorities who had let Gallegos loose. "They hide behind the fact that they are immune," Lara says.
Jeb and Kris Bryant don't have any proctor placements right now, but they are thinking about taking more soon. Jeb Bryant says images of the three bodies in Bayfield pop up in his mind every day. "You see the picture in your mind over and over and over," he says. "I still don't know how you're supposed to deal with that."
Lara Von Tersch, Robin Adams, Ginny Mansfield and Jennifer Seekamp are back in college, although not all at UNC. They all eschewed opportunities to appear on talk shows such as Montel Williams's.
Heidi Hocker tried to come back to UNC with a big cast on her foot. After a man broke into her dorm room, she decided to drop out, but she's now pursuing her education again. Although she still has nightmares, can't trust strangers and has a bump on her foot to remind her of Gallegos, she is determined to stick to her dream of one day teaching history. Like the other survivors and families, she says she has good days and bad days. "Sometimes it comes and it really hits you," she says.
Gallegos was buried in Cortez after being eulogized by Jeb Bryant, who said that he was certain God forgave Gallegos and that his soul was now in heaven.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.
- Marijuana May Cause Decreased Sperm Counts, New Study Finds
Fri., Sep. 4, 7:00pm
Sat., Sep. 5, 12:00am
Sat., Sep. 5, 12:30pm
Sat., Sep. 5, 7:30pm
- Reader: Don't Say You're From Colorado Every Five Seconds Like a Vegan
- Denver Loves Sour Beer the Most, and Here's Why