COLORADO SPRINGS — On Halloween morning, Naomi Bettis called 911 to report a man with a long black rifle outside her home. The dispatcher asked her to describe what she saw.
“I couldn’t tell if it was real or not, it being Halloween day, you know,” Bettis recalled, her voice quavering. “But that’s what I told her, and all of a sudden she started saying something about— I don’t remember what they call it— open arms … and she said, you know, we have that law here. And it just kind of blew me away, like she didn’t believe me or something.”
In Colorado, as in a majority of states, openly carrying a firearm in public isn’t against the law. So Bettis hung up — only to call back again after the man with the gun opened fire on a bicyclist outside her door.
Witnesses to the shooting told reporters that the 33-year-old suspect calmly walked down the street with a military-style rifle, shooting and killing two more people, apparently at random, before police gunned him down in a shootout. Bettis said she was angry she had to call dispatchers twice.
“I don’t think she probably thought it was an emergency until I made the second call, and that’s when I said, ‘That guy I just called you about, he just shot somebody,’” Bettis said.
Colorado Springs police spokeswoman Catherine Buckley said she wouldn’t release audio of 911 dispatch calls related to the shooting because they are still part of an open investigation. She didn’t immediately respond to questions about the department’s general dispatch policy.
On Monday evening, authorities identified the victims as Andrew Alan Myers, 35; Jennifer Michelle Vasquez, 42; and Christina Rose Baccus-Gallela, 34. The family of the gunman, Noah Jacob Harpham, 33, issued a statement.
In Colorado, how emergency dispatchers handle reports about people openly carrying firearms can vary.
“There is not a uniform policy I’m aware of statewide to manage how dispatch handles these calls,” said Rick Brandt, president of the Colorado Association of Police Chiefs.
Brandt, who serves as police chief of Evans, Colorado, about an hour north of Denver, says reports of people openly carrying firearms come in from time to time where he works.
“They aren’t common, but we do get those calls: somebody walking down the street with a weapon displayed … and the officers will respond based on the information provided,” he said. “If it’s not being displayed in a menacing manner, if somebody is walking down the street carrying a weapon, often times officers will simply approach consciously. Our primary concern is safety of all of our citizens.”
Across from Bettis’s home on Monday, a small memorial of flowers and cards sat on the curb where Bettis watched the shooter kill the man on a bike.
“The young man is the one that died and I don’t know anything about him,” she said.