Sheila Swasey, the mother of slain police officer Garrett Swasey, who was killed in a standoff at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, wanted her son to keep teaching ice skating, not become a police officer. But six years ago, he joined the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs police department.
“It’s what he wanted to do,” Swasey said. “How could you say no?”
Swasey, 44, was killed Friday after responding to reports of a shooter at the clinic. He was one of 12 victims — and one of three fatalities. Officials in Colorado Springs have not provided any details about the exact sequence of events that led to the death of Swasey and the other victims, who have not yet been named.
The day before his death, Swasey had spent Thanksgiving with his wife, two children, mother and other relatives.
“He was kind,” his mother said in a phone interview. “He wasn’t arrogant or selfish, and I wish people could hear more about that, about how caring the police really are.”
On Saturday, President Obama praised Swasey in a statement: “May God bless Officer Garrett Swasey and the Americans he tried to save — and may He grant the rest of us the courage to do the same thing.”
“My brother was a hero in every sense of the word,” wrote Kimberly Swasey Noveletsky, Swasey’s sister, in a Facebook post. “My heart is broken, for my mother and father who have lost their only son, for his young children who barely had the chance to get to know him before he was violently torn from them and for his wife who will never grow old with him.”
The suspected shooter, Robert Lewis Dear Jr., 57, was taken into custody after a prolonged standoff with responding officers.
“Garrett was a guy who took his job seriously,” said Amy Oviatt, a family friend who set up a fund in Swasey’s honor.
Besides being a consummate police officer, Swasey was an elder and co-pastor at his nondenominational evangelical church, Hope Chapel. There, according to a short biography on the church’s Web site, he taught guitar to fellow churchgoers and helped with the chapel’s care groups.
With 120 congregants, Hope Chapel is a relatively small church, and according to fellow co-pastor Scott Dontanville, Swasey will be sorely missed.
“He was awesome,” Dontanville said, noting that Swasey was an excellent but humble guitar player who spent his Sunday afternoons teaching children who attended the church how to play the instrument. He also gave bass lessons.
“The lessons, the time he gave to the church, he did it all for free,” Dontanville said. Dontanville added that Swasey’s career as a police officer was a part of his “calling in life to give back to the community.”
“He was willing to lay down his life for people whose beliefs he might not have agreed with,” Dontanville said.
Swasey grew up in Melrose, Mass., a small suburb just north of Boston, where he took up figure skating — a passion that would eventually take him west to Colorado, where he would coach and teach the sport.
Caithleen Voisine, a childhood friend of Swasey’s, recalled driving him to skating practice in the nearby town of Stoneham, Mass.
“He was there every morning before school and every afternoon after school,” Voisine said, adding that Swasey trained with Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan.
“He was like my little brother,” Voisine said. “He was a good kid and came from a great family.”
According to the Denver Post, Swasey and his ice-skating partner, Christine Fowler, won the junior national ice-skating championship in 1992. He and partner Hillary Tompkins finished 13th in the 1995 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and performed in ice shows in Maine.
According to Voisine, Swasey met his wife, Rachel, after moving to Colorado. Their daughter, Faith, is 6 and their son, Elijah, turns 11 on Sunday.
There was a candlelight vigil at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs on Saturday night.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.