Gunman Opens Fire At Missionary Center; 2 Killed, 2 Hurt

Shooting Occurs At Youth With A Mission Center In Arvada

A gunman walked into a training center dormitory for young Christian missionaries in Arvada early Sunday and opened fire, killing two staff members and wounding two other staff members.

Officers are still actively searching for the gunman, described as a 20-year-old white male.

However, Arvada police said they have reason to believe that this gunman may be connected to the shooting at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, but would not say if he was the same gunman shot and killed Sunday afternoon by a security guard. (Read that story. )

Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, were killed in the Arvada shooting. Johnson was from Minnesota and Crouse grew up in Philadephia but attended school in Alaska. Charles Blanch and Dan Griebenow were both injured and taken to the hospital.

Griebenow, 24, was shot in the neck -- barely missing his spinal cord -- and was in critical but stable condition, his friends said. Blanch was shot in the leg and was doing OK, said Paul Filidis, the center's director of communications. Blanch, 22, is from Minnesota and joined the staff in the fall of 2006.

All four of the victims were staff members with the Youth With a Mission (YWAM) center.

"They go all around the world to very unsafe places but they lost their life in a very safe place," said Steven Williams, who knows some of the missionaries.

Witnesses told 7NEWS the man approached Johnson inside the center at about 12:30 a.m., asking for a place to sleep for the night. Johnson is the center's director of hospitality, which may explain why she was trying to help the man.

He was let into the building for about 30 minutes until staffers at the center asked him to leave and a fight broke out, said Don Wick, Arvada's police chief.

"Upon leaving the facility, the suspect turned and fired a handgun numerous times, striking four victims," Wick said.

The shooting occurred as the staff was cleaning up from a Saturday night Christmas party. About 45 people were inside the dormitory at the time. They were all interviewed by police and none knew the shooter, Wick said.

Witnesses told police that the gunman was a wearing a dark jacket and a skull cap. He may have glasses or a beard. He took off on foot but K-9 officers were not able to track him down.

"Until we can get a confirmation on the identification of this individual, we just can't even begin to guess what a motive would be or what his connection might be to this facility," said Arvada police spokeswoman Susan Medina.

"We are really mourning the loss of these two ... kids, really. They were in their early 20s," said Peter Warren, director of the center. "Tiffany was ... just a wonderful young lady. Big dimples. Everyone loved her."

YWAM Shooting Connected To New Life Church Shooting?

Nearly 12 hours after this shooting, there was another deadly shooting at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

Arvada police said they do have reason to believe there is a connection between the shootings, but would not elaborate.

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 missionary's school and discipleship program and the two church groups have spent time in prayer together and in local evangelical and outreach programs.

YWAM also has an office inside the New Life Church and New Life Church and YWAM worked together years ago on a controversial and dangerous missionary program that focuses on converting people in Muslim countries.

"Until we have evidence that conclusively ties these two events together, Arvada police will continue to follow up all leads. And we're asking the residents of Arvada to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity," Wick said.

Arvada police officers also traveled to Colorado Springs to try to put together pieces of the puzzle. The gunmen in both shootings were described similarly -- a white man in his early 20s or late teens with a black or dark jacket.

Wick said a witness in the Arvada shooting will be sent to the Springs to try and identify the gunman.

On Sunday evening, 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.

Sorrows For Victims, Sympathy For Gunman

"There's no blueprint for this, we're just going to be honest and pray for one another, cry with one another," Warren said.

Warren said he doesn't think the gunman was someone who just walked by.

"I do think he knew what Youth With a Mission was and possibly had some casual contact with some of our students or staff," said Warren. "Who knows what was going on in this young man's life ... God is the only one who can judge but our place is to forgive. Obviously, he was a very disturbed young man."

"I'm not wishing the worst to happen to him or anything. There's still a place for God's heart for him. But it's still rough, man. People do a lot of crazy things. Just to draw people who are innocent and don't have anything to do with it -- it's just heinous," said Sam Baker, a friend of the victims.

"I'm not sure what that person was going through. What situation in life would make him want to do that. I feel bad for that person," said Williams.

Police searched through the night with several dogs and nearby houses were notified via two reverse-911 calls at 2:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Residents in the area were asked to lock their doors and be on the lookout for anything suspicious.

Residents were asked to look out their windows to see if the snow had been disturbed overnight. About 4 inches of snow had fallen in the area in the past day. Police called off the search after several hours because the gunman's footprints in the snow became commingled with others, the police chief said.

Investigators are following up on reports that the gunman was spotted near the center on Saturday. Police are also looking through surveillance video from area businesses.

The dormitory is on the campus of the Faith Bible Chapel, near 63rd Avenue and Ward Road, but is not affiliated with the church.

"Unless you were looking for them, I don't know how you would stumble upon that building," said one churchgoer.

People bundled up against subfreezing cold trickled into the sanctuary for Sunday services as detectives conducted their investigation at the dormitory, about 300 yards away.

Chapel pastor George Morrison began the service by calling for forgiveness.

"We never doubted that we would have a service," said Morrison's wife, Cheril. "We felt like our church faithful all needed to be together."

Police maintained tight security on the chapel grounds.

Cheril Morrison said Crouse had just hung up Christmas lights at the Morrisons' home and described Johnson as "an amazingly beautiful person."

Brady White, who attends Faith Bible Chapel, said he had spoken to some friends who are students at the center. His friends were unhurt but they called the experience "terrifying."

"They're just wonderful people," he said of the center's students. "Their mission is to know God and to make him known."

Former students said the campus is safe, but any student would open their door to anyone asking for help.

"Everyone's in shock about it. We don't know why someone would come into our base like that -- where people are just trying to do good in the world," said missionary Noelle Filidis.

"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," Gov. Bill Rittter said in a statement released Sunday.

About Youth With A Mission

About 80 students and staff who live on the Arvada Youth with a Mission (YWAM) campus have been evacuated to the YWAM campus in Golden. People have been showing up at the 55-acre mountain campus, known as Eagle Rock, with blankets and clothes for the survivors.

"There are reasons to cry almost everyday. There are reasons to be happy, too, about things. There are reasons to cry everyday so when of course, it happens right in your own family ... it adds an extra dramatic element," Paul Filidis said.

Darv Smith, director of a YWAM center in Boulder, said people ranging from their late teens to their 70s undergo a 12-week discipleship course that prepares them to be missionaries. He said the center trains about 300 people a year.

"We have great respect for the work that they do because they're doing so much for the world," said Kay Williams, who showed up at the center to show her support for the group after hearing about the shooting.

"We offer our support and condolence to families of victims," Mayor Bob Frie said. "We share the loss of our friends and family today."

YWAM staffers are usually former missionaries themselves and the "mercy ministries" performed by trainees include orphanage work and working with the poor and needy in third-world countries, officials said.

Crouse was training to be a missionary in Kazakhstan.

YWAM was started in 1960 and now has 1,100 locations with 16,000 full-time staff, Smith said. It is one of the largest missionary training organizations in the world, operating in 149 countries and training about 25,000 people a year. The Arvada center at the Faith Bible Chapel campus was founded in 1984.

"We forgive the assailant and we rededicate ourselves to serving young people in the hope that we might bring healing to other needy youth," YWAM said in a statement.

Anyone with information on the Arvada shooting is asked to call Arvada police at 720-898-6900.

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