Colorado Springs Looks For Healing After Planned Parenthood Shooting

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Photo: Church service after Planned Parenthood shooting (AP Photo)
Scott Dontanville, front, co-pastor of the Hope Chapel, consoles a congregant before service early Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015, in northeast Colorado Springs, Colo. University of Colorado-Colorado Springs police officer Garrett Swasey, who was one of the three victims of a shooting at a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic Friday, was a member of the congregation.

Last week's fatal shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs is the latest in a string of tragedies that has rocked the city recently.

It’s been just a month since the last shooting spree in Colorado Springs, when a man gunned down three bystanders on Halloween before being killed by police. Recent years have also seen devastating floods and wildfires.

"The community rallied through those kinds of things, and there’s no question they’re going to rally through this," said Mayor John Suthers on Sunday. Those words of comfort wouldn’t have sounded out of place after any of those recent tragedies.

"We want to send a very strong message that the community is supportive of the victims and their families," Suthers said, standing just down the street from the clinic still surrounded by emergency vehicles and yellow police tape. "It is the courage and heroism of the first responders that will define us, and not the incident itself."

Robert Lewis Dear faces his first court hearing Monday in Friday's attack in which three people were shot and killed and nine were injured. Colorado Springs police say they will not disclose why the alleged gunman opened fire at the clinic.

One of the victims, Garrett Swasey, was remembered Sunday at a service at Hope Chapel, where he was a co-pastor. Also a University of Colorado police officer, Swasey was killed when he rushed to the clinic after shooting started on Friday.

Sunday’s service at the Chapel was a chance for worshippers to remember their friend and draw comfort from their faith. Congregates celebrated Swasey’s life. They watched videos from his figure-skating past and sang happy birthday to his young son, who turned 11 this weekend.

After the service, Pastor Scott Dontanville struggled to try to sum up Swasey for the many reporters asking about his long-time friend.

Photo: Sign supports Planned Parenthood (AP Photo)
Bethany Winder, a nurse who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., plants a sign in support of Planned Parenthood just south of its clinic as police investigators gather evidence near the scene of Friday's shooting at the clinic Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015, in northwest Colorado Springs.

"Garrett was ... special," Dontanville said. "We always say this about people who’ve passed away and almost like I feel like we’re manufacturing stories. But it’s not a manufactured story with Garrett."

Authorities this weekend also released the identities of the other two people who died in the attack. They were Jennifer Markovsky and Ke'Arre Stewart. Both were accompanying friends to appointments at the clinic. Stewart was an Iraq war veteran who had recently left the army, according to his friends. Markovsky’s family described her as a stay-at-home mom, with two young children.

At Hope Chapel, worshipper Craig Tomanini said the community is suffering.

"My wife and I were just talking about how there’s been so many shootings this year," Tomanini said. "It’s a lot for the community to take."

In the parking lot of a nearby King Soopers, business seems to be getting back to normal. For shopper Bailey Gerhardt, Friday’s attack said less about the city, than the nation.

"I wish I could say I was surprised, but we see shootings happening over the country, so I’m not super surprised," Gerhardt said. "But it was just really weird how close to home it was."

Another shopper, long-time resident Mike Whetta, pointed out Colorado Springs has weathered past challenges and is vibrant and growing. The city, he says, can’t be defined by its tragedies.

"There’s so many good things about this area, so I wouldn’t condemn the community or think everything is going to you-know-what," Whetta said.

That’s an attitude city leaders hope will help people here carry on as they to try to make sense of last week’s violence.