Two church members were shot to death and three others were injured after a gunman opened fire outside the New Life Church in Colorado Springs as Sunday services were wrapping up.
The gunman was shot by a church female security officer and was found dead when police arrived at the scene, said Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers.
Police did not release the name of the security guard but said she "probably saved many lives today."
"It's a tragedy that could have been much worse than it was," the police chief admitted.
The gunman was described as a white man in his late teens to early 20s. His name has not been released. However, Arvada police said late Sunday that this shooting may be linked to a shooting at a missionary center in Arvada. The gunman in that shooting was described as a white man in his 20s. (Read that story
Witnesses said the terrifying incident began just after 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the church and ended a few minutes later.
The gunman shot five people before he was shot and killed by a security guard, Myers said. When police arrived, three minutes after the shooting, the gunman was dead and so was a parishioner.
Four churchgoers were rushed to area hospitals. Two were treated and released, a third later died and a fourth remain hospitalized in fair condition , police said.
When the shots rang out New Life Church went into lockdown and every church in Colorado Springs went into high alert. The security team at New Life had been increased after word of a deadly shooting near a church in Arvada earlier that day, said New Life Senior Pastor Brady Boyd.
"We had a very detailed plan in place that we put into effect immediately" to evacuate people, he said.
Witnesses said the shooter was dressed in black and was carrying a high-powered rifle.
"The services had ended at 12:30 and so there would have still been hundreds of people on campus picking up their children from the children's care area," said New Life Church spokesman Rob Brendle.
About 7,000 people were on the church grounds around the time of the shooting, said Boyd.
"You become kind of callous to this kind of thing because you hear it in the news all the time," a member of the church told 7NEWS. "Then when it hits home, people you know, it just really shakes you."
"As a pastor, my heart is broken today for people who lost their lives ... Our prayers right now are for those who were injured, and for the families who lost their loved ones," Boyd said. "It's unfortunate that we live in a society where this happens, but it does."
"They came to church to worship, they came to church with their families to worship ... and they lost their lives," said Boyd.
Investigators also reported they found a pipe bomb in the parking lot of the church and several suspicious devices inside the church.
"The suspicious devices that were located turned out not to be explosive in nature but appeared to be smoke-generating devices," Myers said.
New Life Church's Connections With Youth With A Mission
Colorado Springs said they do not know if the shooting at New Life is connected with a deadly shooting earlier Sunday at a missionary training center in Arvada
"We are working directly with the Arvada Police Department to explore if there is any possible link to the incident that they had," Meyers said.
However, Arvada police said there may be reason to believe the two deadly shootings are connected.
The description of the gunman was the same -- a white man is his teens or early 20s wearing a black coat. Youth With a Mission (YWAM) also has an office inside the New Life Church.
A YWAM official in Colorado Springs said there is a strong bond between the organization and the church. Many New Life Church members have completed the mission school and discipleship program and the two church groups have spent time in prayer together and in local evangelical and outreach programs.
New Life and YWAM also worked together on a controversial and dangerous missionary program that focuses on converting people in Muslim countries.
On Sunday night, the bomb squad was called to a home in unincorporated Arapahoe County where both Arvada and Colorado Springs police were executing a search warrant related to the New Life Church shooting, 7NEWS reported.
New Life is one of the most influential and one of the best known Evangelical churches in the country. New Life is the 10,000-member megachurch that was thrown into the national spotlight last year when church founder and senior pastor Ted Haggard admitted to "sexual immorality" following allegations he paid a male prostitute for sex and meth.
"Our church has gone through difficult times in the past. Our church will survive and do well," said Boyd.
Gov. Bill Ritter expressed his condolences to all of the victims' families.
"Violent crimes of any sort are tragic enough but when innocent people are killed in a religious facility or a place of worship, we must voice a collective sense of outrage and demonstrate a renewed commitment to keeping our community safe," Ritter said in a news statement.
Anyone who needs counseling can call the New Life Church at 719-594-6602. Boyd said the church will have a team of people available Monday to help with crisis counseling. Sunday service was canceled and the church will be closed on Monday, according to its Web site.
Boyd thanked police officers for their quick actions.
"I watched the events unfold from my second floor office. And within just a moment of hearing gunshots, the police were on the scene, the building was secured, our people were safe. As a pastor and leader of the church, I'm just so grateful for the courageous men and women who serve in our law enforcement agencies and the way they responded," Boyd said.
The Colorado Springs Fire Department, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and a K-9 unit from the Air Force Academy were called out to the scene to assist police investigators.
Colorado Springs police asked witnesses who have not spoken with an investigator to contact the department at 719-444-7000.
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