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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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Tags: Shots Fired, Domestic Violence, Montrose (Colo.) PD, Barricaded Suspects


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 http://www.cityofmontrose.org/index.aspx?nid=275. 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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