Douglas County

Deputy killed in 'ambush-type of attack' in Highlands Ranch

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, center, flanked by members of area law enforcement agencies, addresses the media after the Dec. 31 fatal shooting of a deputy.
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, center, flanked by members of area law enforcement agencies, addresses the media after the Dec. 31 fatal shooting of a deputy.
Photo by Jessica Gibbs

One deputy was killed and four other law enforcement officers were wounded in what Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock called "an ambush-type of attack" the morning of Dec. 31 in Highlands Ranch.

Authorities have identified the suspected gunman as Matthew Riehl, 37.


Riehl had barricaded himself inside a bedroom in an apartment near County Line Road and Colorado Boulevard and fired at least 100 rounds of ammunition at responding officers, Spurlock said. The suspect was later shot to death by members of a regional SWAT team.

Two civilians, who were not in the apartment, sustained non-life-threatening injuries during the incident at Copper Canyon Apartments, 3380 E. County Line Road.

"Just regular people trying to live their life," Spurlock said.

The sheriff's deputy who died was Zackari Parrish, 29. Parrish is survived by a wife and two young children, Spurlock said. He'd been with the sheriff's office for seven months and had previously served more than two years with the Castle Rock Police Department.

Spurlock described Parrish as someone who smiled a lot and was eager to serve.

"His wife told me he loved this job more than any he ever had," Spurlock said. His eyes welled with tears as he described holding the hand of Parrish's wife earlier that morning. "They had many hopes and dreams . . ."

Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley said Parrish served the department with "honor and dignity."

"He truly loved being a police officer and embodied everything it is to be one. He was an excellent officer, a good friend and a committed husband and father," Cauley said. 

Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered flags be lowered until sunset on Jan. 2 in honor of Parrish. 

MORE: Vigil for fallen deputy

"The call to protect and serve too often leads to this ultimate sacrifice. We are grateful for the service of Deputy Parrish, his fellow deputies and that of the Castle Rock police officer," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "We pray for their and their families' strength and resolve in the days and months ahead."

The four injured officers were in stable condition at area hospitals. All but one was released from the hospital by the night of Jan. 1. The wounded officers are Deputy Michael Doyle, 28; Deputy Taylor Davis, 30; Deputy Jeffrey Pelle, 32; and Tom O'Donnell, a Castle Rock police officer. Pelle remained in the hospital the morning of Jan. 2, but was expected to make a full recovery, according to the sheriff's office.

Riehl did not have a criminal record but was known to authorities, Spurlock said. 

He said the first four of the officers to arrive "were shot very, very quickly."

"They all went down almost within seconds of each other, so it was more of an ambush-type of attack on our officers," Spurlock said. "He knew we were coming."

MORE: Warning signs about Riehl

All of the officers who were shot were wearing bullet-proof vests but were hit in areas of their body not protected by the vest, Spurlock said.

Officers first responded to the residence at approximately 3 a.m. after reports of a "verbal disturbance."

No crime was committed at that time and officers cleared the scene at 3:44 a.m., according to a release from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. 

Noise complaints and reports of a possible domestic disturbance again brought officers to the apartment at about 5:15 a.m. Riehl and a male roommates lived at the apartment, Spurlock said. The surviving roommate was cooperating with authorities, the sheriff said.

Officers were let into the apartment and engaged in conversation with the shooter before he barricaded himself in a bedroom and began firing with a rifle - the specific type of firearm has not been disclosed.

Three of the officers were able to pull themselves from the apartment while still under fire from the suspect, but because of their injuries were unable to pull out the fourth, unconscious officer, who was Parrish, Spurlock said.

The suspect, later identified as Riehl, was taken down by SWAT officers at approximately 7:30 a.m., almost two hours after the shooting began, Spurlock said. O'Donnell was shot and injured by Riehl shortly before Riehl was killed, authorities said. 

Officers were able to enter the apartment and recover Parrish's body. After speaking with the hospital, Spurlock learned doctors wouldn't have been able to save Parrish. 

"The physician said that he had no ability to survive the injuries," Spurlock said. "He was hit multiple times."

The sheriff said he did not know what prompted Riehl to open fire on authorities, but said body cam footage would help determine how the situation escalated.

"This is going to be a several-day investigation as you can imagine, so I ask the community to have patience with us," Spurlock said.

MORE: Neighbors react to tragedy

Major roads in the area were closed for hours following the incident.

An emergency shelter was set up at the Eastridge Recreation Center, 9568 University Blvd. in Highlands Ranch, for anyone displaced from their home by the shooting. Neighbors were later allowed back into their homes except for those in the immediate location of the shooting. 

Susan Drum, a Copper Canyon resident who sheltered at the rec center, said she heard gunshots about 6 a.m., though at first she believed them to be the sound of a car back-firing.

"You don't think right away that, oh, wow, that was a gunshot," Drum said.

She described the complex as quiet and safe and said she never felt uncomfortable during the past 15 to 16 months she has lived there.

Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas also spent time at the shelter to support residents.

"This is just heartbreaking," said Thomas, who served for decades in law enforcement. "With my state patrol days, it just brings back that law enforcement is a family."

Messages of condolence for the deputies also poured in on Twitter.

"If you are heading to church this morning, please say a few prayers for the officers battling in the hospital and the friends, families and coworkers of the fallen Officer. We can't thank you enough for your service and sacrifice," the Parker Police Department said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with our DCSO family. We are heartbroken by this morning's incident," Littleton Fire Rescue tweeted.

The American Red Cross was helping at the shelter and providing food and water for about 150 first responders involved in the investigation.

At the news conference, members from Castle Rock and Parker police departments, the district attorney's office and Colorado State Patrol stood by Spurlock as he spoke. Spurlock, who is dealing with the first death of a deputy in the line of duty under his tenure, said there were too many agencies who aided in the event to name, but that he was grateful for the support from the community and neighboring law enforcement.

Parrish's body was transported from Littleton Adventist Hospital to the Douglas County Coroner's Office in Castle Rock in a procession that included dozens of law enforcement vehicles.

"This is a tragic day," Spurlock said, "and a tragic day we'll be feeling for a long time."

Highlands Ranch Colorado, deputies shot, Douglas County Colorado, Jessica Gibbs, Zackari Parrish, Matthew Riehl, #CopperCanyonOIS


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