Man suspected in Thornton murder-suicide had previously threatened to kill wife and others, a former employer says

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Kingdom Hall of Jevhovah’s Witnesses in Thornton.

Updated on 12/28/2022 at 3:48 p.m.

Local authorities on Tuesday identified Enoch Noah Apodaca, 46, and Melissa Susanna Martinez, 44, as the deceased in a murder-suicide and apparent attempted arson at a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall and another attack at a local union on Sunday in Thornton.

At around 8:45 a.m. Sunday, police say Apodaca entered the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 68 with what appeared to be a bucket. He left after only a brief visit, and a large explosion was heard shortly thereafter. According to a statement from Thornton Police, firefighters and the Adams County Sheriff both responded to the scene but could not find a suspect. No injuries were reported.

Then, at around 9 a.m. Thornton Police responded to a structure fire at Kingdom Hall, where they found that Apodaca had fatally shot Martinez before killing himself, they said. An investigation later revealed that Apodaca had directed Martinez to drive a black pickup to a window of the worship hall. Apodaca then broke the window and threw three explosives – one similar to the bucket-like explosive used at the IBEW Local 68 building. After dropping the devices, both Apodaca and Martinez got out of the car. Police say it was at this point that Apodaca shot and killed Martinez and himself.

None of the devices at the Kingdom Hall detonated, according to Thornton police. However one device seems to have started a fire that was extinguished by one of two people in the building at the time. The first meeting of the day was not scheduled until 9:30 a.m.

Authorities later found all three “incendiary devices,” and they were “rendered safe and collected.”

According to Thornton Police, authorities served a search warrant at Apodaca and Martinez's house in Westminster. There they say they found bomb making materials as well as personal items labeled and organized for distribution to family members.

Thornton Police said the attacks "appear to be as a result of personal issues [Apodaca] had with his employer, and the couple's own issues with Kingdom Hall."

Both Apodaca and Martinez had been members of the Jehovah's Witnesses congregation but were "no longer welcome," according to police. Officials say Apodaca had expressed interest to a member of the congregation to return to the congregation the night before the attack.

There may have been earlier warning signs of violence.

Court records show Apodaca was fired from his employment with Sturgeon Electric Co. in June 2021. Later, he reportedly told a union representative that he would shoot his wife and the rep before coming “after the people responsible at Sturgeon.”

The conversation with the union representative was recounted in court filings made by a representative of Sturgeon, who asked a court for a protection order against Apodaca in Dec. 2021.

Digital court records did not make clear whether the protection order was granted. 

Additionally, there is no record of anyone attempting to file an Extreme Risk Protection Order against Apodaca, which could have resulted in his access to guns being revoked. If an ERPO is granted, a judge can require a person to relinquish their guns for a period of a year or longer. During that time, they are also banned from buying any new firearms. ERPO petitions can only be filed by law enforcement or by household and family members.

It’s unclear if law enforcement were aware of the 2021 incident. Representatives for the Thornton Police Department and Adams County Sheriff’s Office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

ERPO petitions, also known as “red flag” cases, are rare in Adams County. Local authorities only attempted to take firearms from one person after the ERPO law was instituted in 2020, according to data from Nov. 2022.

The Denver Post first reported on the 2021 incident with Apodaca.

A representative for Sturgeon declined to comment. Representatives for IBEW Local Union 68, which was named in the court case as Apodaca’s union, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Previously, Apodaca was charged in 2002 in a felony theft case, which was dismissed after he pleaded not guilty, according to court records. Apodaca’s and Martinez’s identities were released by the Adams County Office of the Coroner, which said the cause of death remains under investigation.

Tony Gorman contributed to this report.

Editor's note: The headline has been updated to reflect that the couple in the murder-suicide was no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses.