As the anniversary of the 2007 Colorado shootings at a youth missionary dormitory and a prominent megachurch approaches, CNA has learned that the homicidal incidents were not classified as hate crimes in state and federal reports.
The perpetrator, 25-year-old Matthew Murray, posted heated anti-Christian remarks on the internet during the 12 hours between the two attacks he carried out, which killed four and wounded three.
The exclusion of the incident from state and national hate crime reports calls into question the reliability of hate crime statistics and the consistency of “hate crimes” classifications.
Murray’s series of fatal shootings began early on the morning of December 9, 2007, when he arrived at the Youth With A Mission Training Center in the Denver suburb of Arvada, according to the Associated Press. He had been a trainee at the center in 2002 but was asked to leave the missionary organization.
That December night, some five years later, Murray asked persons at the center if he could wait for a ride. After about half an hour he was asked to leave the center by Tiffany Johnson, 26. After she escorted Murray through the door, he drew a gun and fired, fatally wounding Johnson and Philip Crouse, 24.
The automatic door locked Murray out of the building. Four students returning to the center saw Murray banging on the door, but he left when he saw them.
Later that day, Murray drove to New Life Church in Colorado Springs where he opened fire on Sunday worshippers leaving the evangelical church’s parking lot. According to CBS4Denver.com, his attack fatally wounded two sisters, Stephanie Works, 18, and Rachel, 16. Murray’s shots also wounded their father, David Works, as well as two other churchgoers, Larry Bourbonnais and Judy Purcell.
Many churchgoers hid inside New Life Church as Murray entered the building, apparently prepared to kill more people.
However, he was disabled by an armed security guard who shot him. Soon after, Murray committed suicide by shooting himself.
In between the attacks in Arvada and Colorado Springs, Murray, who had been raised in a strict Christian home, posted anti-Christian comments on the internet blaming Christians for the attacks.
“You Christians brought this on yourselves” he wrote on a forum for former Pentecostals and fundamentalists. “All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you ... as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.”
“Christian America… this is YOUR Columbine!” he said, according to the Rocky Mountain News, referring to the 1998 high school shootings in Jefferson County, Colorado.
Murray’s other remarks blamed Christianity for hate, hypocrisy, lies, and sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
The web page of the Colorado Bureau of Investigations’ (CBI) 2007 Hate Crime Report, which is part of its Crime in Colorado Report, did not report Murray’s attacks as hate crimes.
The CBI web site cites the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting definition of a hate crime, which is:
“A criminal offense committed against a person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnicity/national origin, or sexual orientation.”
Lance Clem, Public Information Officer for CBI, spoke with CNA in a phone interview about the state hate crimes report.
Clem told CNA that local agencies reported the shootings as homicides but did not report them as hate crimes, explaining that the data CBI uses comes from local agencies.
“They are voluntarily reported, so there is a good chance that they will be updated later,” he said.
“There are some things about the Crime in Colorado report that are very incomplete,” he explained. “The only reason why it’s of value to anybody is that it shows trends.”
“It’s not complete enough for us to do a comprehensive report on a lot of different elements.”
Clem added that the CBI collects the information on its own initiative, using a part time-employee whose work begins in January and is done “by about May or June.”
“There’s no incentive or disincentive” for local agencies to send data in, he continued. “They either do it, or they don’t.”
Clem confirmed that the CBI hate crimes statistics are used by the FBI in its national hate crime statistics. National statistics would therefore report the killings at the Youth With A Mission center and New Life Church as homicides and not as hate crimes.
However, he added that it is possible that the crimes were catalogued as hate crimes in local agencies’ databases but the information was never sent on to the CBI.
“It’s very, very common for those numbers to have big discrepancies,” he said of crime statistics.
“It’s really up to local law enforcement. Sometimes they’ll just report it as a median case and leave it at that, which doesn’t fully represent what’s going on.
“Local agencies will tell you that hate crimes are kind of difficult to prove, because you have to establish a real motive.
“There is some difficulty at the local level making that decision. Every chief and sheriff I know takes it very seriously, but they are difficult cases to prove,” Clem told CNA.
He added that if an agency did incorrectly report an incident, it would need to re-submit the correct incident report.
CNA also spoke about the church shootings with Sergeant Richard Duvall of the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Intelligence Unit.
Sergeant Duvall explained that his position in the department is to evaluate a crime if it is flagged as a potential hate crime to determine whether it fits the definition.
“This particular case was never flagged and never came to me,” he said, noting that the case’s generating officer, the main case agent and the investigations division were among a number of people at the police department who would have been involved in deciding whether or not to flag a crime for review.
To flag a case as a hate crime, Duvall explained, an investigator has to show that it was motivated by bias against one of the relevant categories.
He suggested possible reasons why the Murray case was not categorized as a hate crime, saying “I think that the general feeling [at the department] was that it was not so much bias but retaliation.”
Investigators had found Murray had belonged to YWAM and other organizations in the past, but had been held back from missionary trips.
According to the Denver Post, YWAM had offices at New Life Church, while CNN reported that Murray’s parents donated to the church.
Duvall explained the questions investigators have to consider in classifying a case.
“Was he talking out of retaliatory anger, because he had been shunned by the group? Was he acting out of vengeance or out of bias? Motive can be hard to determine.
“It depends how much was left behind. You have to be able to substantiate that bias against religion was a factor. It could have been, but I don’t know if you could substantiate it.”
The FBI’s 2007 Hate Crimes Statistics list 3,870 race-based hate crimes, 1,400 religion-based, 1,265 crimes based on sexual orientation and 1,007 based on ethnicity or national origin.
Broken down by anti-religious bias, 969 reported crimes were anti-Jewish, 130 were anti-Other religion, 115 were anti-Muslim, 61 were anti-Catholic, and 57 were anti-Protestant.Among all reported hate crimes, only nine were instances of murder and non-negligent manslaughter.