On December 9, 2007 a 24-year-old gunman named Matthew Murray launched a brutal assault on the parishioners of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs (Colo.) that left two innocent victims dead. Had it not been for the quick actions of a former police officer from Minnesota named Jeanne Assam, that number could easily have been much, much higher. Assam explains in a new video segment produced by the PoliceOne Video Team for the PoliceOne Academy that she very nearly decided to not go to church that day. However, on the morning of the shooting, she saw a headline on her computer indicating that two young people were murdered at a training center for Christian missionaries some 70 miles away in the Denver suburb of Arvada. The headline shook her.
“I just got instant chills,” Assam said in the new PoliceOne video. “I just knew he was going to come to New Life Church. So I called the director and I asked him, did you hear about this shooting in Arvada and he said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘I’m coming in’.”
Shortly before one o’clock in the afternoon, the first of at least two smoke ‘grenades’ went off outside the building. Soon after the second one went off, Assam heard a “muffled ‘pop, pop, pop’ coming from the East Hallway,” which runs the entire length of the massive structure.
“As I’m making my way to the beginning of the East Hallway, these loud thundering cracks of a high powered rifle just start ringing out,” Assam told PoliceOne.
She said also that she initially thought the gunman was inside the church, but he was not — not yet. When Assam and another security guard spotted Murray in the main doorway, he was firing into the 100-yard-long hallway crowded with churchgoers.
Running to the Gunfire
“He was shooting into the masses of people, so I pulled my gun out of the waist of my jeans where I keep it, and I just sprinted down the hallway toward him. All of a sudden, everyone’s gone — there’s nobody in the hallway but me and the gunman.”
In a Denver Post article which ran on PoliceOne two days after the shooting, Assam said, “I saw him, it seemed like the halls cleared out, and I saw him coming through the doors, and I took cover. And I waited for him to get closer. And I came out of cover. And I identified myself. And I engaged him and I took him down.”
When I connected with PoliceOne Columnist Dan Marcou for this column, he told me, “Jeanne Assam was quoted after her gunfight with a killer at the New Life Church as saying, ‘It seemed like it was me, the gunman and God.’ Maybe that is because Jeanne is exactly what potential victims in this attack needed — and possibly even desperately prayed for that day in church. They prayed for an armed, honorable gunfighter and she was an answer to that prayer. By ‘riding to the sound of guns,’ Jeanne Assam succeeded in bringing ‘New Life’ to those persons at that church by engaging an armed gunman in a gunfight and thereby sending a hater to his ultimate judgment.”
Superior Skills & Courage
Assam may well have had God in her corner during her deadly confrontation with the murderous Murray. I won’t make a call on that one way or another, but it’s abundantly clear that she most definitely did have some serious strategic advantages. As a law enforcer, she had the training and the mindset of a warrior.
The gunman was nothing more than a gunman.
“The bad guy has nothing over us,” Assam said in the new PoliceOne video. “We have more power than the bad guy. We have the equipment, we have the training, and we have the courage.”
Following the shooting, Assam was widely described as a hero. The church’s senior pastor, Brady Boyd, told the Denver Post that Assam was a real hero to him and to the whole church.
My friend and colleague Betsy Brantner Smith — who is one of PoliceOne’s top columnists and one of the top instructors for the Street Survival Seminar — told me as I was writing this column that Assam has been one of her heroes ever since the New Life Church shootings occurred.
“Not just because she put an end to what surely would have been a terribly historic mass killing,” Brantner Smith told me. “My admiration for Jeanne stems from what happened before and after those shootings as well. Jeanne loved being a cop in Minneapolis; she loved the action, the camaraderie, the community. She ended up leaving MPD and she floundered a bit, moved to Colorado, and changed her life. She didn't whine and cry about what happened in the past or what ‘might have been.’ She took control of her own destiny, put her life in God's hands, and moved forward. Things weren't — and aren't — always perfect for Jeanne, but she always stays the course. As we say in the Street Survival Seminar, she ‘keeps fighting no matter what.’ She is a warrior, physically, spiritually, and tactically.”
Using Video in Training
It should be noted that Betsy was intimately involved in the creation of the above video — in fact, she was the person off camera who interviewed Assam for the segment. As was mentioned above, the video is part of the PoliceOne Academy, a new online video training library designed to help police agencies enhance their officer safety training despite declining training budgets.
In a sense, it’s videos like these that have been a foundational element to the Street Survival Seminar, about which I’ve written in the past. I can’t count how many videos Dave, Ray, Betsy, and all the other Street Survival instructors have used over the three-plus decades Calbre Press has been around, but I’m told there are nearly 400 videos in 50 training categories in the P1 Academy.
“As the lead instructor of Street Survival for Women,” concluded Brantner Smith, “I end the seminar with Jeanne's story. She is a true 5%er, she lets nothing stop her, and that's what she did the day Mathew Murray came into her church... she armed herself, said a prayer, and she ran toward the shots, it’s what heroes do.”
When Betsy says such things about a fellow warrior, I bolt upright and listen intently.