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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Montrose, Colorado 07/25/2009

Called to a family’s home, Montrose officers faced a shotgun-wielding gunman who was barricaded in a garage.

April 09, 2012  |  by - Also by this author


As an oil rig driller in Freer, Texas, Dennis Gurney had just disconnected an oil pipe when a heater used to warm workers ignited the diesel-laced mud that was being used in the drilling process. He was enveloped in flames a split-second later.

On fire, Gurney started down the stairs of the platform. But his presence of mind had not abandoned him, nor had the implications of the disengaged pipe for his co-workers. He doubled back and closed off the spewing pipe. His fellow workers then smothered the flames on his body and Gurney was transported to a hospital.

It was Feb. 27, 1980. Gurney was 23 years old, and the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team had just defeated the Soviet Union in a game that would become known as the "Miracle on Ice." Burned over 75% of his body, Gurney would pull off an even greater miracle on this night. The young hero would die multiple times in the emergency room—and be revived each time.

Many painful surgeries and skin grafts later, Gurney set up a new life for himself in Montrose, Colo. What the town's dry climate did for him physically, its locals did for him emotionally as they welcomed the big-hearted and likeable Gurney into their fold. For a time, life in Montrose seemingly agreed with Gurney.

But the one-time hero remained acutely aware of the deep scars that traversed the most visible part of his body. Even if he didn't formally acknowledge the slights of ignorant strangers or fixate on every reflective surface that cruelly reminded him of what he’d lost, introspection sometimes got the better of him.

To balm the pain, he took to drinking. His capacity to lash out while under its influence soon took a toll on his marriage and resulted in repeated call-outs by the Montrose Police Department.

Officer Rodney Ragsdale was among those officers who responded to the Gurney residence. During one arrest, Gurney was as cooperative as any officer could ask for. He even joked with Ragsdale, both at the time and later when he was booked by another officer for yet another charge.

But Gurney's life spiraled downward. And it would all come to a head on one final call-out to the man's home.

Domestic Violence

On July 25, 2009, Gurney's wife, Pamela, called Montrose PD to report that he had assaulted her. Anticipating the response from law enforcement, Gurney retreated into his garage.

Among the responding officers were Sgt. Dave Kinterknecht, Sgt. Bernie Chism, and Ragsdale.

The trio arrived simultaneously. Walking around the house to the front of the offset garage, they found fellow Montrose PD officers and Montrose County Sheriff's deputies holding down the scene. One officer suggested that they kick the door in.

"No," said Sgt. Kinterknecht. "Let's first see what is going on."

Ragsdale accompanied Kinterknecht around the back of the garage to see what they were up against.

One side of the garage was solid wall; the opposite side had a bathroom window. Tinted windows ran the length of its rear, obscuring anything inside while backlighting any cumbersome entry attempt. This left a closed overhead door and a locked walk-in door adjacent to it the only options for entry. Sgt. Chism had already tried to gain access through each of these two doors. The family provided  a variety of means—a key...access code…door opener. None worked. Each portal had been sabotaged by Gurney.

Meanwhile, officers milled about outside the house and beckoned for Gurney to come outside and talk. Finally, they received a response from inside.


That articulated refusal to leave fostered some initial optimism: Where communication was established, a dialogue might grow.

Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

B @ 4/10/2012 8:31 AM

Knowing this guy was barricaded and possibly armed, why wasn't a SWAT team called out? These are the types of calls they are trained and equipped to handle.

Morning Eagle @ 4/11/2012 1:21 AM

Montrose, CO, is a small town with perhaps a dozen officers, fairly remote from any large population center. Do they even have access to a SWAT team within reasonable response time? Not every department does and has to handle situations the best way they can with what they have available. As for the officer that apparently, according to Ragsdale, could have put the subject out of action early on but had personal "philosophical" apprehensions on use of deadly force: He may be a good man in many ways but not one wholly fitted for law enforcement. I used to tell my beginning LE students they must make that very personal decision before they ever put on a uniform and badge or carried a firearm. If they didn’t honestly think they could use deadly force if the situation arose, perhaps they should consider a different career field because we never know when the most seemingly innocuous or “routine” situation could ‘go south.’ Look what that hesitation cost his fellow officers. Hopefully for the Montrose PD he has moved on to something more fitting to his talents.

Det. Sgt. M.C. Williams @ 4/11/2012 7:29 AM

I have had the honor of meeting both Larry and Rod at the Colorado Police Protective Assoc. conference that featured my friend Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. That said, and in reference to Morning Eagle's comment, you are uninformed about both Montrose and its PD. See They have their own SWAT unit. However, I concur with your assessment about the officer (hopefully former officer) who was unable to engage.

Ron @ 4/11/2012 7:45 AM

It is very sad that this occurred however armed with the knowledge that he had acess to a gun safe locked or not still increased the seriousness of this. Did the officers know that he was alone in the garage by himself, if so time is on your side establish a perimiter and contain it. I am quite sure there was some sort of tactical team in the region that could have responded no matter how long it would take. If it were a active shooter situation then that is different, but this seemed to not fit this scenario. Its always tough to monday morning quarterback these type of situations and unfortunately we have to learn by mistakes that were made. My heart goes out to the Officers and families that were affected by this situation.

Jim @ 4/11/2012 10:35 AM

My condolences to these wounded Officers and the family of Sgt. Kinterknech. These are all brave Officers. What they did was the way we did this many years ago and yes we suffered many casualties back then. We now, and during the time of this incident, have many new ways to accomplish this without injuries to Officers because of new technology. Better tear gas, and flash bangs with better personal protection in shields and vests etc. They should have waited as they did have the situation contained and had all the time they needed to bring him in without anyone getting hurt except the suspect and even then, only if he made it happen. They are correct about the willingness to actually take a life if absolutely necessary. That is something that ever LEO has to search his soul about and be very honest with himself if he can actually pull the trigger.

mcmdenise @ 6/2/2012 2:10 PM

nice story I just found it as I am in montrose on vacation how nice to acknowledge the support of our officers I will take this attitude home with me to big bear lake in hopes of remembering to acknowledge the officers there who serve our community too, thanks....

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