DENVER —The man who authorities say emptied more than 100 rounds while firing at Douglas County officers in an ambush-style attack early New Year’s Eve suffered a mental breakdown just months before, raising several red flags for friends and family, according to a newly released police report.
Matthew Riehl, 37, was shot to death Sunday after shooting at the deputies inside his unit at Copper Canyon apartments. Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish, 29, was killed; four other officers were injured. The Iraq War veteran live-streamed his confrontation with deputies online on Periscope.
Friends and family were becoming increasingly concerned with Riehl’s behavior in the months leading up to the shooting, according to a University of Wyoming Police report obtained by Denver7. The suspect’s brother told police that Riehl was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had recently suffered a “manic breakdown,” refusing all contact with family.
The brother’s story was just one of several troubling accounts from friends and family detailed in the police report from October 2017. Campus police at the time were investigating social media posts in which Riehl mentioned the College of Law and some of its employees.
One of the Facebook posts that led to the complaint was a photo of a courtroom with the name of a faculty member over it. The caption read “shot that motherrf—ker dead on the streets of Laramie,” according to the report.
During the investigation, police talked to Riehl’s mother in an attempt to locate the suspect. The mother told police she had not seen her son for some time, but he was emailing her frequently. In one of many inflammatory emails to his mother, Riehl accused her of being a “tranny prostitute,” the report reads.
She described her son as being angry and said he often “attempted to use his law degree to intimidate and get his way with people.” She stated that Riehl “felt he was smarter than others and treated confrontation as a game,” the report reads.
The mother told police Riehl might be living at his Lone Tree, Colorado home. She told them she was concerned because he had post-traumatic stress disorder from his 2009 deployment to Iraq and was refusing to take his medication to treat it, a statement backed up by several of the suspect’s friends who were interviewed as part of the University of Wyoming investigation.
She stated she wanted authorities to locate him and help him get treatment. According to the report, her attempts to get Lone Tree Police to help her son were unsuccessful. She acknowledged her son had not yet threatened anyone with bodily harm.
After interviewing Riehl's mother, university police reached out to investigators at the Lone Tree Police Department to share their concerns and learn more about any possible contacts the department may have had with the suspect.
A LTPD detective told them they had recently filed a false reporting case against Riehl for a claim made by the suspect in which he said his mother and brother and entered into suicide pact and they were going to the kill themselves, according to the university's report.
The Lone Tree Police department had also made numerous welfare checks at the suspect’s home, but Riehl would not let officers in, according to the police report. In November, Lone Tree Police issued a statewide bulletin on Riehl so other officers in the state would be made aware of the situation, the report reads.
While the details in the report appear to reveal a troubled man, University of Wyoming Police Chief Mike Samp told Denver7 they did not have enough evidence to pursue any criminal charges at the time.
"We were certainly approaching it from a welfare check standpoint,” Samp said. “The language in the posts did not rise to the level where we could take action criminally, by Wyoming state law, but we wanted to make sure the authorities in Colorado were aware of this individual and had all the information we had regarding him."
The University of Wyoming case against Riehl was closed, and no charges were filed. Riehl was also never held for mental evaluation.
"Wyoming statutes are pretty clear: If someone is not making an immediate threat, they cannot be held for a mental evaluation. They are very tough cases," Samp said.
When to seek help
The shooting incident has raised questions about what friends or relatives can do when they see social media posts that raise red flags.
Darrin Kessler, an access clinician at the Mental Health Center of Denver, said, "if you see something, say something."
Kessler said concerning behavior is fairly common.
"Going through a rough time, personal loss, youth having difficulty, it's part of life," he said. "Often people will go, 'I can't share this,' or 'it's embarrassing,' but it's common."
He said some severe cases need to be addressed more urgently.
When asked how you can tell if it's urgent, he said, "call 911 and let the first responders decide."
"This is about caring"
"With a lot of things that have gone on," he added, "we have fear, but this is also about caring. How do we care for one another."
Kessler told Denver7 that "sometimes people are angry and they're just ranting about something, but if it raises a suspicion, like you know, I'm a little concerned, because there are people who raise concerns about hurting themselves, I think we need to take that seriously. Again what we can do is call 911. We can call that crisis line and say, hey look, I just saw this post on Facebook. I want some help, what do I do?"
The big question, is what do first responders do once they get that information?
If you have concerns about someone, contact Colorado Crisis Services.
Here is the link: http://coloradocrisisservices.org/
You can also call: 1-844-493-8255, or text TALK to 38255.
First Contact in 2008
University of Wyoming Police say they first made contact with Riehl back in April of 2008.
That's when a law school student claimed that Riehl harassed him during a week-long debate competition.
The student told police that Riehl was trying to antagonize him into starting a confrontation.
According to the police report, Riehl later admitted to leaving "gift bag" containing feminine hygiene product's on the student's desk.
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