Halloween turned into a day of actual horror in Colorado Springs as the scenic city became the setting for a bloody and seemingly random shooting spree.
The normally festive holiday literally went up in flames Saturday morning when a 33-year-old man set his house ablaze and then stalked his neighborhood with a military-style rifle and pistol.
The gunman fatally shot three random people — including a passing bicyclist as he begged for his life — before dying in a shootout with police that left downtown Colorado Springs covered in shattered glass, bullet casings and crime scene cordons.
“Knock me over with a feather — that guy was just a nice guy. I liked him,” the landlord, who did not give his name, told the Gazette. “I couldn’t imagine for a second that he would even have a weapon.”
The gunman’s name and the names of the victims have not been released by police pending autopsies and notifications of next of kin. But the Gazette identified the shooter as Noah Harpham. The newspaper said it had confirmed his identify by speaking to those who knew him, including his neighbors and landlord.
While he may indeed have been a “nice guy,” there were plenty of hints of trouble, many of them detailed by his mother, Heather Harpham Kopp, an established author and blogger on Christian-themed subjects, whose latest work, “Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk,” was described by Susan E. Isaacs as “an important book,” “funny, heartbreaking and wise,” about “being a Christian and an alcoholic.”
It was also a book about her son.
His mother had written several books detailing her son’s struggles with drugs, alcohol and depression. And a blog and a YouTube video made by Noah Harpham just two days before the rampage suggest his mind was fraying as he rambled about God, religion, his father and the government.
“PEOPLE BEG FOR THE IMPLIED RESPONSIBILITY TO BE OBLITERATED,” Harpham wrote. “Welcome to mind control.”
Colorado Springs, often voted among America’s best cities, erupted at around 8:45 a.m. Saturday when police suddenly received a flurry of 911 calls.
Residents along North Prospect Street reported seeing a young man duck into house No. 230 holding a military-style rifle and a can of gasoline, according to the Gazette. As the house went up in flames, the man emerged with the rifle and a pistol and began shooting.
He set his sights on the first person he came across: a bicyclist riding down the street.
The gunman, dressed in a green jacket and cap, fatally shot the cyclist several times as he came down the block, neighbor Naomi Bettis told the Associated Press.
“His last words were ‘Please God, no,’” another neighbor, Teresa Willingham, told the AP. “He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The gunman then wandered the neighborhood with a weapon in each hand before attacking a home for recovering addicts, killing two women who were sitting on the home’s porch.
“It looked totally random,” said Matthew Abshire, a neighbor who followed the gunman and called the police after spotting the carnage out his apartment window. “He walked calmly and collectedly. His demeanor was like he was having a stroll in the park.”
When police confronted the gunman, he shot at them, shattering the window of a squad car before police fatally shot him, Abshire added.
Harpham, a physically imposing but normally reserved man, posted bizarre rants to the Internet in the days before his death.
Harpham, a 6-foot-5 insurance agent, wrote on a eHarmony.com dating profile that he was a recovering alcoholic, Christian and “a big friendly giant,” according to the Gazette.
Although Saturday’s attack shocked Colorado Springs, there were signs — albeit buried in the books and blogs — that all was not well with Harpham.
Some of the signs trace back years, to the pages of his mother’s own memoirs.
Heather Harpham Kopp, who could not be reached for comment by The Post and did not return calls Sunday from the Gazette, has written that she and her first husband, Thomas Harpham, became pregnant with Noah when she was just 17 years old.
But the child’s life was marked by the family curse of drug addiction and depression, she wrote. Kopp’s own father had struggled with both before committing suicide at 47. Kopp hid her own alcoholism from her two sons, Noah and his younger brother, Nathan.
“Noah, three years older than Nathan, was in many ways his brother’s opposite,” she wrote in her 2014 memoir, “Sober Mercies.”
“He was dark-haired, impossibly tall, introverted, and incurably moody,” the mother wrote of her oldest son. “Noah was no less loved, smart, or talented than his brother. He had a great gift for music and a photographic memory, and he was the guy you didn’t want to challenge to a game of Boggle.
“But in recent years, as Nathan set his sights on sports, girls, and getting into law school, Noah had turned to drugs and alcohol. While Nathan made me feel like the best mom on the planet, I was pretty sure I’d screwed up Noah’s life irreparably. Having given up on college, he struggled just to live and keep a job.
“By now, Noah’s own problems with alcohol and drugs were well established. A few years earlier, all four of us parents had become so worried about him that we staged a mini intervention at his apartment in Eugene, Oregon.”
Later in “Sober Mercies,” Kopp wrote that her son’s alcohol and drug abuse had become so bad she feared for his life.
“In the past ten years, as the threat of something bad happening to Noah and the likelihood of Noah doing something bad to himself became increasingly, painfully real, I had been beside myself many nights with worry,” she wrote, adding that although she prayed for her son to stay sober, “I couldn’t seem to feel at peace around that idea.
“I could not trust God to keep Noah safe or alive or sober,” she added. “God was asking me to hand Noah over. Give him up. Let go of him. Let him fall off the ledge.”
In one particularly vivid moment of the memoir, Kopp wrote how Noah had become drunkenly enraged while playing Scrabble against his more successful brother.
“He stood up and began to yell at Nathan and call him this and that, reinforcing his words with his middle finger,” she wrote. “He stomped up the stairs, a giant having a tantrum, and left the rest of us stunned, feeling sick and sad.”
Kopp’s memoir, like most, ends on a hopeful note.
“My worst fears for Noah didn’t come to pass,” she wrote near the end. “The next time I saw him he seemed better.”
But it wouldn’t last.
Harpham had been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Colorado Springs but suddenly dropped out two months ago, neighbors told the Gazette.
Last week, the breakdown his mother had long feared finally appears to have become a reality. On Thursday, two days before the massacre, Harpham posted a one-minute video to YouTube in which announced that he would be writing a blog to “dissect” a sermon from Bethel Church pastor Bill Johnson, “a guy my dad has been following, taking ideas from for 10 years, at least.”
In the video, Noah Harpham’s speech is at times slurred. He wears headphones, but music also plays in the background. As he records himself, he paces around his room, the camera swirling nauseatingly. He appears upset that his father hasn’t heard him out.
“I’ve been waiting and waiting and I haven’t heard anything, so I was just gonna post my reply,” he said in the video. “And I guess that’s how I’ll start my blog.
“The blog is just going to be me with a video camera and that’ll be it,” he said with a wry smile. “We will see what happens.”
What happened was pure horror.
In his one and only blog entry, titled “Is my Dad in a Cult, and even worse is it Satanic?” and also dating to Oct. 29, Harpham hinted more directly at his anger and confusion.
The blog alternates between bold, italicized and capitalized text, as if Harpham were alternating between different personalities. The rambling piece of writing also alternates between the intelligible and the unintelligible as Harpham attempts to critique one of Johnson’s sermons.
His goal in writing the blog was to “attempt to derive knowledge and understanding from this Bible verse using MY OWN mind,” not “mind-controlling” sermons. But the words that poured forth were incoherent:
“VEGETABLES HAVE AN EXCUSE. YOU ARE COWARDS,” he wrote, addressing Johnson’s followers. “IT’S LESS FUN FOR HIM TODAY BECAUSE OF THIS. HE PLAYS YOU FOR AN IGNORANT FOOL TO YOUR FACE BECAUSE HE CAN AND YOU ARE. HIS INTENTION IS TO DESTROY THE CORRECT AND SACRED NATURAL REVULSION IN YOU BUT ITS JUST A SCRIPT IN THE CHURCH AT THIS POINT.
“CUE THE LAUGHTER. AND PEOPLE BEG FOR THE IMPLIED RESPONSIBILITY TO BE OBLITERATED.”
At times, the blog post appears to touch on Harpham’s own life.
In her memoir, his mother wrote that there was “a miracle afoot” in her son’s decision to stop drinking in 2007. In his own writing, Harpham hammered away at the idea of children being saved by miracles.
“Pastor Bill then proceeds to tell you that miracles mess you up, especially miracles involving children,” he wrote. “Miracles mess you up, especially miracles involving children. Miracles mess you up, especially miracles involving children. Again, miracles mess you up, especially miracles involving children. One more time, miracles mess you up, especially miracles involving children.”