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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

Peace in the Storm

At one point, the suspect's son ran past Ragsdale to peer through the bathroom window into the garage. Ragsdale heard the report of a gun.

"Oh my God, he killed himself."

The son's words provided a bittersweet moment for Ragsdale. He realized that none of them were going to get shot at again, but at the same time he felt some measure of pity for the gunman and his family.

Ragsdale prayed aloud for Larry, Dave, and himself and gently sang the words of the old hymn, "He Gives Me Peace in the Midst of the Storm."

Additional comfort came from the words of a Calibre Press card that he'd kept in his locker for years:

I will survive any high risk call...I have succeeded in dangerous calls before...I know the tactics that I need. Even if I get shot, I can stay in the fight...defeat any threat...use deadly force if I have to...take control of my stress by deep breathing.

The words became a meditation mantra for Ragsdale, reinforcing his determination to survive. They had kept him company every day for years. And now they were keeping him alive.

Periodically someone would double-back to check on him, but none appeared more stressed than Chism, whom fate had tasked with ensuring that everyone and everything was being taken care of in the best manner possible.

As he lay there, Ragsdale began to feel tingling in his fingers and realized he was getting overheated. He unzipped his uniform shirt, pulled the front panel off his vest, then undid his gun belt and the top button of his pants. His measures provided some relief, but the tingling sensation continued and he was sure that he'd be seeing the Lord in a few minutes. And he was fine with it. He didn't want to die, but if he did he knew that God would take care of him.

Finally, a paramedic showed up and knelt down beside Ragsdale. Looking over his body, he asked questions to be sure the injured officer was lucid. Then he said, "I'm not going to leave you. I'm going to stay with you until we can get you situated." And he did.

Ragsdale was loaded into the ambulance next to the 23-year-old Witte. Seeing the pain and fear in Witte's eyes, Ragsdale grabbed the young man's hand and said, "You know, Larry, I think they're going to have to find somebody else to finish our shift for us tonight." For a second, the men shared a desperately needed chuckle.

At the hospital in Montrose, Ragsdale continued to try to remain upbeat and joking. But he began to notice that his every inquiry into Kinterknecht's condition was met by demurred responses. Finally, he pressed his comrades to be candid with him. With tears in his eyes, Commander Gene Lillard broke the news:

"Dave didn’t survive."

Recovery and Retirement

Ragsdale was transferred to a hospital in Grand Junction to repair the damage to his leg. His femur was repaired, but nerve damage to his leg left his foot permanently disabled.

Within a week, the Montrose Fire Department transported Ragsdale home to a hero's welcome. The support that family, friends, coworkers, and members of the community provided that day and in the months following let him know that the actions and sacrifices he and others made that day were appreciated.

Ragsdale particularly acknowledges his wife, Susie, for her efforts to console officers in the wake of Dave Kinterknecht's death, and his brother Terry for providing much needed help after his return home.

Ragsdale says only one person has responsibility for what happened that day.

"Ultimately, it was Dennis Gurney who pulled the trigger and killed one officer that day and wounded two others."

But Ragsdale wants to do all he can to minimize the likelihood that others might die, or bear the physical and emotional scars that others have in the aftermath of that day in 2009.

"Tactically, in retrospect, there's always a better way to look at things. I felt we had containment and we had time on our hands, and we could have used it more wisely. I don’t think that we were quite ready. We didn't communicate very clearly before the door was kicked."

He also notes that an officer who was in a position to shoot Gurney early in the engagement failed to do so. The man's philosophical beliefs made it too difficult for him to act in the reality of the moment.

"There are questions that each officer has to work out for himself long before they become an actuality," notes Ragsdale. "That includes the willingness to take a human life when the need exists. If you don't honestly believe you can do it, then perhaps this is not the job for you. Life sometimes has a way of forcing your hand."

Officer Larry Witte and Officer Rodney Ragsdale were each presented with their department's Purple Heart and Medal of Honor. Sgt. Dave Kinterknecht was decorated posthumously.

Kinterknecht was the only Colorado officer killed in 2009. His name was added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2010.

Witte recovered and returned to duty. Ragsdale has since retired.

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