Monday 19 August 2019

Recovering alcoholic's Colorado Springs gun rampage remains mystery

Memorial candles burn on the front porch of a home in East Platte Avenue in a tribute to the victims of the Colorado Springs shootings (The Gazette/AP)
Memorial candles burn on the front porch of a home in East Platte Avenue in a tribute to the victims of the Colorado Springs shootings (The Gazette/AP)

The man who killed three people during a gun rampage through the streets of Colorado Springs was a recovering alcoholic who posted an online video two days earlier expressing displeasure with his father for allegedly falling under the sway of a preacher.

But the motive for the shootings by Noah Harpham is not known and he left few clues in blog posts and on social media.

Harpham, 33, who had a rifle in one hand and a revolver in the other lived just yards from where his first victim, a cyclist, was murdered in broad daylight on Saturday.

He then calmly walked less than a mile and gunned down two women on the porch of a sobriety house - a treatment centre for addictions - before being killed in a gun battle with police.

His mother, Heather Kopp, a freelance writer living in New York, described his long-time struggle with addiction in Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up With A Christian Drunk - a book also about her own battle with alcoholism.

Authorities have not said whether there was any link between his substance abuse problems and the fact that two of his victims were women who were themselves in addiction recovery.

Colorado Springs police identified Harpham's victims as Andrew Myers, 35, Jennifer Vasquez, 42, and Christina Baccus-Gallela, 34.

Neighbour Teresa Willingham said cyclist Mr Myers begged for his life as the gunman continued to fire.

Harpham then shot Ms Vasquez, who was sitting outside the sobriety house, causing Ms Baccus-Gallela to open the front door to see what was going on, Ms Baccus-Gallela's uncle, Chris Bowman, said.

The white picket fence in front of the house was riddled with bullet holes.

El Paso County sheriff's office said four officers fired at Harpham but they were not wearing body cameras and their cars were not equipped with dashboard cameras.

A fuller picture of Harpham emerged in details from his mother's book, in which she described him as "introverted and moody" and turning to drugs and alcohol around the time he gave up on college.

Ms Kopp said Harpham, who was living in Eugene, Oregon, at the time, "struggled just to live and keep a job". His family was so worried about him that they staged a "mini intervention", but their efforts failed.

He completed a three-month programme in California, but drank on his first night out, Ms Kopp said.

"Noah loved and hated all of us in equal measure," she wrote. "In Noah's mind, he was the loser child, the burnt piece of toast in the bunch."

During a visit to his family's Colorado Springs home years ago, he drank too much, became angry and "exploded", Ms Kopp said. His mood had become "so toxic it was scary".

His mother and stepfather urged Harpham to move in with them. In Colorado Springs, she said, he found work as an insurance agent and met an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor regularly.

His mother wrote that he seemed to improve under their roof and eventually moved into his own place and began helping other addicts.

In a YouTube video posted last Thursday, Harpham questioned what he called his father's involvement with the Rev Bill Johnson and the Bethel Church in Redding, California.

The church is part of a stream of Pentecostalism that heavily emphasises signs of God's miracles and revelations in modern-day life, along with supernatural healing. Mr Johnson and his church have come under criticism from conservative Christians who say he promotes teachings far beyond the boundaries of mainstream Christianity.

Benjamin Broadbent, lead minister of the First Congregational Church of Colorado Springs, released a statement he said was provided by Harpham's family, saying they were shocked and saddened and requested privacy.

PA Media

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