Officer Garrett Swasey was a six-year veteran of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus police force

By Kathy Ehrich Dowd
Updated November 28, 2015 06:20 PM
Credit: Courtesy of University of Colorado Colorado Springs

Just one day after a shooting rampage inside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs left three dead and nine others injured, stunned community members attempted to make sense of the tragedy – and mourn those lost.

Three people died Friday during a five-hour standoff after a shooter opened fire in a busy parking lot, then entered the Planned Parenthood clinic.

Authorities identified one of the victims as Garrett Swasey, 44, a police officer at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He was reportedly one of the first on the scene – and volunteered to go. A six-year veteran, he was a father of two young children and a former competitive ice dancer.

The co-pastor of his church, Scott Dontanville, told The Denver Post Swasey was a highly regarded church elder who was dedicated to his family, including his wife, Rachel, 10-year-old son, Elijah, and 6-year-old daughter, Faith.

“He was a devoted father,” Dontanville said. “He was the guy who was home with his kids. I was just over at his house the other night playing with his son in the backyard. He was a great dad.”

A Melrose, Massachusetts, native, Swasey moved to Colorado in the late ’80s to pursue his passion for figure skating, according to The Boston Globe.

In 1992 he won the junior national championship in Orlando, Florida, with partner Christine Fowler of Baltimore, per the Post. Three years later, he and another partner reportedly competed in the 1995 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and later went on to perform in Musical on Ice shows.

“He wanted to be an Olympian,” said Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan, who graduated with Swasey, at a press conference Saturday. “He was an Olympian in terms of law enforcement, and as a dad.”

As a member of the campus police force, he was not required to respond to the shooting, but those who knew him said it was in his nature to volunteer.

“He responded out of a sense of duty to the Colorado Springs community, as a state-sworn police officer,” Colorado Springs Police spokeswoman Lieutenant Catherine Buckley told the Globe.

Pastor Dontanville also said his sense of duty superceded whatever personal feelings he had regarding Planned Parenthood.

“He may not agree with the abortion position, but he was willing to lay down his life for other people,” he said.

The names of the two additional victims have not yet been released. Five officers were wounded in the attack, but the city’s police chief said he expected most of them would be released from the hospital by Saturday night, per the Post.

On Saturday, grieving community members gathered at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, where the Rev. Nori Rost told those gathered that “we’re here to honor the lives of those who were killed yesterday by a domestic terrorist.”

Vicki Cowart, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, spoke at the event, praising the 15 employees who “did what they needed to do to protect everyone in that building.”

“Our hearts break together for what’s just happened,” Cowart said, adding that she did not know the shooter’s motive, but she knows many people rely on the services the clinic offers.

According to the Post, her comments upset at least one attendee.

“I thought we were here to grieve and mourn for people who died and not make a political statement,” she said and then walked out.