Update: In a jailhouse interview, Joshua Cummings, who has been charged with the slaying of RTD security officer Scott Van Lanken in late January, as described in our previous coverage below, calls himself a "soldier of the Islamic state" and maintains that his actions were done for the "pleasure of Allah."
The interview was conducted via telephone by CBS4's Rick Sallinger. During the conversation, Cummings avoided explicitly confessing to murdering Van Lanken, and he did not confirm that he thought the victim was a police officer.
Van Lanken, who was also a pastor, was wearing a police-like uniform on the evening of January 31 when he was shot from behind while giving directions to two women near Union Station in downtown Denver.
However, Cummings spoke in detail about the influence of his faith.
"I give my bay’ah to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and I am committed to being a soldier for the Islamic state," he said.
Wikipedia defines a bay'ah as an "oath of allegiance to a leader" and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as "the leader of the Sunni militant terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which controls territory in western Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan." The organization is popularly known as ISIS.
The reference to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Cummings's self-proclaimed soldier status for the Islamic state suggests a terrorist act. But in a somewhat contradictory statement, he insisted that he was not acting at the behest of ISIS on the 31st.
“The reason why it was not for ISIS is because in 1996 I took a pledge to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and obey officers appointed over me and the president, commander in chief of the United States, the military," maintained Cummings, who was previously a member of the U.S. Army. He noted that "I ratified that in ’97."
Cummings added: "On the night in question, what I did do, I didn’t do that for the Islamic State. I did that purely and solely for the pleasure of Allah."
Click to hear audio from the Cummings interview. Continue for our previous report.
Original post, 5:52 a.m. February 3: Today, February 3, Joshua Cummings, arrested in the execution-style murder of RTD security officer Scott Von Lanken, is scheduled to make his first court appearance. And while the Denver Police Department has shared only a modest amount of information about Cummings and the case through official channels, leaks about "jihadist material" reportedly found in the accused killer's backpack following his arrest, among other details, have been coming fast and furious, suggesting that factions within the DPD are frustrated by an approach to the investigation that they see as politically correct.
As we reported, the original Denver police press conference about the Cummings matter, which took place on Wednesday, February 1 (the morning after the slaying), made no mention of possible terrorist motivations.
At that session, Commander Barb Archer of the Denver Police Department's major-crimes unit told the collected media that DPD officers were dispatched to the area of 16th and Wynkoop streets at around 11 p.m. on January 31 following a report of a shooting. Upon their arrival, they found a man, Von Lanken, with a gunshot wound to the head. He was transported to Denver Health Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Further investigation revealed that two women were speaking to Von Lanken, asking for information about light-rail routes, Archer said. During the conversation, she continued, the women saw a man approach the victim from behind, point a gun to his neck and "heard him say something to the effect of, 'Do as I tell you to,' and then the shot went off." At that point, the victim fell and the suspect fled on foot.
DPD officers soon got information about the direction in which the suspect ran, said Archer, who noted that they also were able to view video from a nearby business. Armed with these details, they began their search and located a man who matched the suspect's description — Cummings — on the 1600 block of 14th Street within twenty minutes. He was taken into custody without incident, and a gun was found that police believe may have been involved in the shooting.
By the way, one of the women is quoted in the Cummings probable-cause statement as saying he had a "swollen face and different/weird-looking eyes" — a description confirmed by Cummings's booking photo, which was finally released on February 2 and is seen at the top of this post.
Since then, however, reports surfaced about "Islamic documents" found on Cummings, who allegedly spoke in an "Arabic language" as he was taken into custody; he was also on a terror watch list. Another law-enforcement source reached out to KNUS talk-show host Peter Boyles, on whose program I appeared yesterday morning, maintaining that Cummings had been wearing an outfit of the sort associated with radical Islamists, plus some form of protective body armor.
Neither the DPD nor the Denver District Attorney's Office has confirmed these assertions, which surfaced against the backdrop of social media chatter suggesting that these organizations are downplaying possible terrorist connections. Claims that Denver's status as a so-called sanctuary city have been fueling this reticence are commonplace online.
If this perception is also shared by the DPD rank and file, it could explain why so much material along these lines has been filtering out from law enforcement sources — and it certainly resonates with clues from Cummings's online footprint.
As we've pointed out, his Twitter account features numerous posts expressing antipathy toward police officers and dispensing criticism of Christianity in juxtaposition with praise for the Muslim faith.
Granted, members of the Denver Muslim community were so alarmed by Cummings's interpretation of their doctrine that they reached out to the Department of Homeland Security. The proof: a December 24, 2016, letter released on behalf of a thus-far-unidentified mosque by attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai, a frequent presence in this space (he spoke to us last week about the decision not to discipline officers in the Jessie Herandez shooting).
The letter, on view below in its entirety, offers a damning description of "Joshua" from Pampa, Texas, where Cummings had lived prior to heading to Colorado and moving into the Holiday Motel on South Broadway with his wife and child.
"He seems pretty advanced in his path of radicalization," the note reads. "He considers the Masjids [an Arabic word for mosque] as doing Shirk (association partners with God) and are Mushrik [defined as "one who associates, invokes or worships beings other than or with Allah Subhanah"]. He also feels that it [sic] okay to fight now (not jihad/struggle, but actually fight), here to establish the rule of Islam. He was also quoting a verse from the Quran (2:54) where he claimed Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) was asked to kill his entire community (wrong)."
Cummings is also said to have publicly rebuked a presenter as "being soft and not supporting enough [sic] the Hudud laws (criminal laws in shariah)."
At this point, the Cummings story has gotten the attention of the major TV networks; last night, ABC featured a superficial overview in its main news broadcast. With the national spotlight on the case, the DPD and the Denver DA's office won't be able to keep a lid on the incident for much longer. Meanwhile, the steady flow of information coming into the media speaks volumes about the tensions that exist behind the scenes.
Here's the mosque letter
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.