Locals Are Creeped Out. Authorities Are Concerned. The Colorado Drone Mystery Buzzes On

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Air Force Test Center focuses on UAS technology
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Simones
Three unmanned aerial systems soar in the sky, Aug. 21, 2019 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

When it comes to the mysterious drones flying over northeastern Colorado, Brush resident Deanna Schwindt doesn't just want to believe. She's seen them for herself.

"They've got two red blinking lights and a white light," she said.

Schwindt has seen drones over her house south of Brush, a city of 5,000 just east of Fort Morgan, every night starting at 5 p.m. for about a week.

"You just see the lights coming, coming from the east. It's weird," Schwindt said.

She isn't alone. People have reported drones flying over northeastern Colorado and southwestern Nebraska for the last three weeks.

So far, authorities haven't had an answer. But now, law enforcement agencies on Colorado's Eastern Plains have started a task force with federal officials to solve the mystery of drone sightings.

Officials from across the Front Range and Eastern Plains met Monday in Brush with representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI and the military to discuss where the drones are coming from.

"There is no local crime that I am aware of that has been committed, but it is very unnerving for our citizens," Morgan County Sheriff Dave Martin said. "Everybody's concerned because of the unknown. A lot of our sheriff and law enforcement partners have been busy with these types of calls trying to figure out what it is and who it is."

Martin said his deputies and other law enforcement officers across northeast Colorado have reported seeing drones too.

The FAA is working to confirm the sightings really are drones, agency spokesperson Ian Gregor said. The FAA has checked with drone companies, unmanned aircraft systems test sites, companies with waivers to operate in the area and airports. None of them have been confirmed as the source of these reports, Gregor said.

The agency has also asked national security agencies to look into how they could help identify the reported operations. Gregor did not specify which agencies are helping solve the mystery.

Representatives from F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne told Martin at the meeting Monday that the drones did not come from the base, as the Gazette had reported Sunday.

Drone-spotters like Schwindt were already skeptical of that theory.

"What are they looking for? I mean, this is just ag land," Schwindt said.

The unknown has led many people in the area to speculate. Martin said he gets tagged in conspiracy theory posts on Facebook all the time.

"I don't believe a drone flying over my house can tell if I have guns in my house or not, and I don't believe it's an X-Ray drone," Martin said. "If it is, it's going to be very disappointed looking in my house."

Schwindt said the drones make her feel uncomfortable and creepy. A lot of people are nervous and upset by not knowing the source, she said.

"I've read lots of different things, what people speculate, and I think some of them are a little outrageous but nobody knows," she said. "But, I don't know, I think people need to be prepared [for] something that could happen."

Placido Montoya in Fort Morgan said he first saw drones on New Year’s Eve. Since then, he’s seen them every night, and his curiosity has only grown.

“I was thinking (it was) Amazon at first, but they said no so I don’t know. They’re obviously gathering intel for something. I thought it was the government because they don’t got to tell nobody nothing," Montoya said. "My main concern is, we know what they are doing. My thing is why. Until we find out why, I’m kind of antsy about going outdoors, like getting recorded. It just came upon the town, like out of nowhere.” 

Montoya said he tried to catch up to one in his car. He estimated the drone must have been going around 100 mph.

"That's one of my concerns. Something that sophisticated, that many of them and nobody's claimed responsibility?" There's something fishy going on."

Online talk of shooting down drones has officers worried. Martin said he has heard people in several counties threaten to shoot them down.

"That's very dangerous," he said. "If you don't hit what you're aiming at, that bullet's coming down somewhere. Whether it's coming down onto somebody's property, pierces their living room window or strikes a child that's outside playing, that bullet is coming down."

Phillips County Sheriff Tom Elliott said he's worried someone will mistake an emergency helicopter headed for a hospital for a drone and try to shoot it down.

"That's going to create a much bigger problem than these stupid drones," Elliott said. "At night, all these blinky lights in the sky look the same and they all make more or less the same sound."

Authorities have been inundated with calls reporting drone sightings. Law enforcement will be forwarding all reports to an analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, Martin said.

Airports have been advised by the FAA to have pilots report unusual sightings.

Until then, the truth is out there.