'An opportunity to see heroes'

Officers receive Medal of Valor and Purple Heart for actions during New Year's Eve shooting

Posted 6/4/18

The event was dedicated to recognizing officers who had acted heroically, showed impeccable training and saved lives throughout the year, but at the Douglas County Sheriff's Office 2018 Award …

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'An opportunity to see heroes'

Officers receive Medal of Valor and Purple Heart for actions during New Year's Eve shooting

Posted

The event was dedicated to recognizing officers who had acted heroically, showed impeccable training and saved lives throughout the year, but at the Douglas County Sheriff's Office 2018 Award Ceremony, one night — the last night of 2017 — dominated the evening.

Dec. 31.

The date, illuminated in white letters atop a black background and a thin blue line, beamed across the auditorium at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch on May 29 from two large screens as Sheriff Tony Spurlock prepared to announce the first awards in the program for officers' actions on that day.

He'd already handed out numerous Life Saving Awards, Sheriff's Commendations and Meritorious Service awards, but the next four he'd announce would be for the officers who served alongside Deputy Zackari Parrish the night he died.

In a moment, his mood changed. Typically filled with witty banter and humor, Spurlock now looked down at his hands and paused for a moment of silence, collecting himself. When he spoke, his words were somber.

Everyone in the room knew Dec. 31 as the day a mentally ill gunman, Matthew Riehl, opened fire on five officers, killing Parrish in the process. Three sheriff's office deputies and one Castle Rock officer were wounded by gunfire.

Spurlock called Parrish's comrades to the stage, and one by one, Sgt. Dave Beyer and deputies Michael Doyle, Taylor Davis and Jeff Pelle came front and center.

When the officers responded to Riehl's apartment for a second time on Dec. 31, they determined he was going through a manic episode. Parrish made the call to place him on a mental health hold.

Riehl had shut officers out of his apartment. He'd previously told dispatch he owned firearms and had been drinking. He'd become angry and inconsolable. So, the deputies formed a plan in consultation with their sergeant, which Spurlock called “a very good plan,” to enter the apartment and place Riehl in protective custody.

When they approached Riehl's closed bedroom door, the shooting began.

Parrish went down. Davis was shot within seconds of Parrish but escaped the apartment by running to an adjacent bedroom, smashing the window and jumping from the second story. She broke her leg in the fall but walked and ran on it nonetheless in search of her team.

Doyle and Pelle were shot as they re-entered the apartment after the first burst of gunfire, trying to reach Parrish, who'd fallen to the ground unresponsive. They continued taking gunfire outside the apartment as they tried to address each other's wounds. Beyer injured his leg trying to help the wounded deputies.

“They were at this point still trying to figure out how they were going to get back in to save Zack. They were all injured,” Spurlock said.

Despite the chaos, and each being injured and bleeding, Spurlock said the officers remained calm and professional.

“This was an opportunity to see heroes really act their best,” he said.

With the help of Parrish's wife, Gracie, Spurlock handed each a Medal of Valor and a Purple Heart.

But more followed. The group of officers who three times charged up the apartment stairs under gunfire trying to reach Parrish received the Medal of Valor — and, more than a dozen members of the regional SWAT team who responded also received the award.

Gracie Parrish addressed the crowd once all the awards were given out.

“It's an honor to be in this room with so many brave and heroic men and women,” she said.

Nearly a year prior, her daughter danced on that stage in a recital. She called being there for the awards ceremony surreal.

“But that's how life works. And that's what you know in law enforcement, that you never know what you're going to get, and every day is going to be different. I'm so thankful for the team that was with Zack. You guys are my heroes,” she said.

The officers who carried her husband, she said, would always be in her heart.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck had helped open the ceremony by awarding Congressional Records to the officers and praising Gracie Parrish for her remarks at her husband's funeral.

“I am honored to be here. After the tragedy that happened on New Year's Eve, I thought a lot about it and wanted to do something,” Buck said. “I was at the service and the dignity with which you (Gracie) handled that and the way with which you helped the community heal took a lot of courage.”

Spurlock said recognizing the officers with Medals of Valor and Purple Hearts was important, although the officers wanted Parrish's memory to be the focus of the night.

“I think it's humbling and honoring for them,” he said. “We wanted to recognize those who took that extra step. Just like Zack did. These officers were right with him. They sacrificed their life and they put themselves in harm's way and we want to celebrate that. Because they saved lives.”

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