Sonny Archuleta triple murder in Aurora: Guns purchased legally (55-57)

The Aurora theater shooting preliminary hearing of James Holmes and the tragic mass killing at a Newtown, Connecticut school have spawned calls for new and stricter gun laws. Against this backdrop comes news related to the bloodiest metro-area incident so far in 2013 -- an Aurora triple murder in which gunman Sonny Archuleta was killed. Turns out all of the guns used by Archuleta were legally obtained. According to the Aurora Police Department, officers responded to reports of shots fired at a home on the 16000 block of East Ithaca Place shortly before 3 a.m. on Saturday, January 6. Open their arrival, they spoke with a female witness who managed to get away, an adult male later identified as Archuleta, 33, was still inside, and he was armed.

Moreover, three other people inside the home -- they've been ID'd as Stacie Philbrook, 29, Christopher Ratliffe, 33, and Anthony Ticali, 56 -- "appeared lifeless."

The home was quickly surrounded and hostage negotiators managed to make telephone contact with Archuleta. Phone communication continued over the course of several more hours, but the presence of a SWAT team and orders to leave the residence issued over a bullhorn didn't persuade Archuleta to step outside. The cops describe his behavior during this time as irrational.

Finally, as 8 a.m. neared, SWAT teamers drove an armored vehicle close enough to the home to break out a window -- an action that apparently prompted Archuleta to fire multiple shots in their direction. But rather than shooting back, the cops tried to inspire his exit via the use of teargas, to no avail.

About an hour afterward, Archuleta popped up in a second-story window and started shooting an officers again -- and this time, the cops followed suit, striking and killing him. Upon entering the house, they found Philbrook, Ratliffe and Ticali dead in an upstairs bedroom.

What set Archuleta off? One neighbor told CBS4 that he may have been on a meth binge, while other reporting noted that Archuleta's brother, Patricio, had been murdered on Labor Day weekend 2011.

Continue to read more about the Aurora triple murder. As we reported at the time, Denver police officers were called to MGM's Restaurant & Lounge to find Patricio in the parking lot, suffering from gunshot wounds. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital a short time later. Meanwhile, a report about a vehicle driven by a suspect in the shooting soon scored a hit -- but an attempted traffic stop soon led to a chase that finally ended in the area around Interstate 70 and Washington Street. There, a man later identified as Luis Meza, 33, was taken into custody for investigation of first-degree murder. As for the weapons used by Archuleta, police at the murder scene recovered .40-caliber handgun, an AR-15 rifle and a pump action shotgun. But the APD has determined that all three of them were legally purchased from licensed gun dealers. "Based on Archuleta's history there is nothing in state or federal law that prohibited [him] from purchasing or possessing these firearms," the department announced.

Of course, an AR-15 was also used by Holmes in the July 20 attack on the Aurora Century 16, which killed a dozen people and injured seventy others -- and legislators and officials across the country have floated possible bans for such assault weapons. But it's unclear at this writing whether such measures would have saved the lives of three people needlessly cut down on Saturday.

Look below to see a CBS4 report on the shooting.

More from our News archive: "Columbine to Newtown: A tragic list of school shootings since 1999."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts