After a gunman ambushed and killed a police officer last week in a midday attack in a Denver suburb, most witnesses scattered, ducking behind cars as they ran for safety. But 40-year-old John Hurley moved toward the shooter, pulling out his concealed handgun and firing at the attacker.
After the gunman fell, Hurley picked up the rifle the shooter had been carrying. Moments later, police pulled up to the scene and one of the responding officers shot and killed Hurley with the rifle still in hand.
“The threat to our officers and our community was stopped by a hero named Johnny Hurley,” Arvada Police Chief Link Strate said in a Friday statement, releasing more details of the June 21 shooting that left three people dead. “Johnny’s actions can only be described as decisive, courageous and effective in stopping further loss of life.”
The incident, which shook the Colorado city of more than 120,000 people, began just before 1 p.m. The brother of 59-year-old Ronald Troyke called police to request a welfare check, fearing that Troyke planned to “do something crazy,” officials said on Friday. Police tried to contact Troyke at his home but did not find him.
Police later found Troyke’s writings, which allegedly stated that his goal was to “to kill Arvada PD officers” and that “I just hope I don’t die without killing any of you pigs.”
Just after 1:30 p.m., Officer Gordon Beesley responded to a suspicious-person call in a busy downtown district filled with shops and restaurants, near the city’s Olde Town Square. Security video released by the Arvada Police Department on Friday showed Beesley walking west near the square when a black pickup truck pulled into a nearby parking spot. The suspect then stepped out of the truck with a semiautomatic shotgun in hand and ran after Beesley. When Beesley turned to look back, the gunman fired on the officer, and then ran back to the truck to exchange the shotgun for a rifle, the video showed.
Police said Troyke ran back toward the square with an AR-15. Hurley confronted him, firing a fatal shot using his handgun.
Another officer, who has not been named by police, arrived a short time later and saw Hurley holding the AR-15. That officer shot and killed Hurley, police said Friday.
Firearms advocates have long argued that gun violence can be stopped by good guys with weapons. Police say that was the case in Arvada, but Hurley’s death also highlights the challenge law enforcement officers face in determining who’s a threat during a chaotic call.
Pete Blair, executive director of a Texas State University group that trains law enforcement officers to respond to active shooters, told the Denver Post that determination can be difficult.
“You’re asking people to make split-second decisions about who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy, and obviously mistakes happen,” Blair said.
Police said a multiagency Critical Incident Response Team is investigating the shooting that killed Hurley.
Beesley, a 19-year veteran officer, also died from his injuries.
On Saturday, friends, family and community members gathered in downtown Arvada to honor Hurley at a candlelight vigil, where people covered the sidewalk in chalk messages of support and grief.
“I don’t really think he knew what kind of mark he was leaving on the world,” Jennifer Masterson, a friend of the Hurley family, told KMGH-TV. “I wish he could see all the people that are impacted by him. A lot of people talk about what they would do in that situation, but it’s rare that someone actually has the fortitude to actually do something about it.”