The Devil’s In The Details

Jeanne Assam

EDIT: I drew most of the information for this post from the Robert Sanchez article linked below.  Recently Ms Jeanne Assam herself has commented to say that the article contained some inaccuracies.  She wishes to set the record straight.  In the interest of honesty, I’ll leave my original text; however, I will also include Assam’s own words whenever her narrative contradicts the Sanchez article.

If you don’t already know who Jeanne Assam is or what she did, I recommend an article called “Jeanne Assam is Still Waiting“, written by Robert Sanchez for the Denver-based online magazine 5280.com.

There are certain parts of this meme that are true.  On December 9, 2007, a 24-year-old man named Matthew Murray attacked two churches in Colorado.  The first attack happened at 12:30 a.m. at the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Church in Arvada.  There, Murray killed two people and wounded two others before fleeing on foot.  Later that day, Murray turned up at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, 70 miles from YWAM, where he killed two additional victims and injured three more.  Jeanne Assam, who was present and packing at the New Life Church, confronted Murray in one of the church’s corridors and shot him multiple times.  According to Sanchez, the gunman, wounded and defeated, turned his gun on himself.  Jeanne Assam says:

We shot at each other and after hitting him 10 times, the last 3 rounds from only about 5 feet away and having no choice, I killed him. He gave me no choice. I don’t care what folklore you’ve read on the internet, you weren’t there. I was. You didn’t get his blood spatter on your clothes. I did. And I was no security guard, I was a trained police officer. He did not kill himself. I killed him.

Assam’s brave actions were widely noted by the media, including liberal- and conservative-leaning outlets, so the meme’s claim to the contrary is simply a lie.  Still, her case seems to have new relevance in the wake of the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.  If one armed church-goer could make such a difference in Colorado, could the same have happened at the Emanual AME Church where Dylann Roof murdered nine worshipers in June of this year?

Of course we don’t know the answer to that question, and we cannot infer an answer from Jeanne Assam’s special case.  You see, there is another lie contained in this meme – a lie of omission – and it greatly affects how we perceive the entire gun control debate.

Jeanne Assam was not an average citizen exercising her Second Amendment rights.  Prior to attending the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, she had gone to police academy and served as a police officer in Minneapolis.  As a consequence of her training, she knew how to safely use a firearm.  Although, according to Sanchez, she was no longer working as a cop at the time of the attack, Assam was still licensed to carry a firearm, and she had been specially appointed by the New Life Church as an armed security guard.

In Jeanne Assam’s words:

I am and was a police officer. My license was still active at the time of the shooting. I was merely a volunteer on that church security team, armed of course, because I am a police officer and the church asked me to be (although they need not have since I am always armed).

According to Sanchez, Assam and her fellow guards were already on high alert the day of the shooting because they had heard about the attack at YWAM earlier that morning.  Assam says:

The next morning, same day, [Matthew Murray] emailed a warning email to New Life Church in Colorado Springs that he was coming there to kill next. I was the only person who was never told of this email (until a retired homicide detective told me about it in late 2011. I then verified this information with the Arvada PD who confirmed it was true).

In other words, Assam was not just a gun carrier; she was the ideal combination of professional experience, preparation, and bravery.  Regardless of whether she knew about the impending attack or not, her professional training made her ready to respond.

That’s not to diminish the heroism of Assam’s actions, by the way, but it makes an important point that this meme conveniently ignores.  Assam simply does not fit most gun advocates’ fantasy of an armed Average Joe (or Jeanne) stepping up to halt a madman in his tracks.  Assam’s gun did not make her a hero; her heroism and experience made her gun an effective tool.  And there are other facts of the case that are inconvenient for gun advocates’ arguments.

When Matthew Murray died, he was carrying a modified Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle, a Springfield Armory 9mm semi-automatic pistol, and a Beretta .40 cal semi-automatic pistol.  An AK-47 assault rifle was found in his car, which might lead one to speculate that he was planning more violence later.  All of these weapons were legally obtained, which ought to give one pause.  Even while Murray posted many of his violent fantasies online – behind an identity-concealing screen name, of course – the law cleared him to amass his arsenal.

If a gun dealer of average common sense knew what Murray was planning, he never would have sold him a gun, let alone an assault rifle (one hopes).  But there are no laws in place that would have revealed Murray’s plan before he committed it; in fact, only a severe violation of privacy would have exposed his intentions – and gun advocates are typically big fans of privacy.  So gun advocates who say that everybody should be allowed to own military-grade assault weapons, free from restriction or oversight, are left with a quandary.  Either people like Murray continue to get big guns and commit mass murders as a necessary side effect of gun advocates’ opposition to tighter regulations, or everybody submits to unconscionably intrusive psych evaluations and surrenders all of their online passwords before they get their hands on an assault rifle.

Or…or…we could just admit that private citizens don’t really need military-grade assault weapons, and that would solve the problem as well.

Now I’m not saying that nobody should have guns at all (in fact, no elected officials, liberal or otherwise, have launched serious efforts to disarm America, which means that this meme’s Official Lie Count stands at three).  If Jeanne Assam had not been packing heat on that fateful afternoon, who knows how many extra people would have died?  But if Jeanne Assam’s story proves anything, it’s that guns are most effective in the hands of highly-trained, morally-upright* individuals who have been appointed to the task of public safety.  I doubt that many of the people who share this meme have one-tenth the training that Assam has in the safe use of firearms, nor that, placed in a similar situation, they would become the saviors they fantasize about being.


*I included the words “morally-upright” to exclude cops who have used their weapons in an act of police brutality.

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5 thoughts on “The Devil’s In The Details

  1. This is Jeanne Assam. I just read your blog. I do appreciate your good intentions, but you have been greatly misinformed. And the story, “Jeanne Assam Still Waiting”, by the man who calls himself a writer, is the worst, most inaccurate story ever written about me to date. That man tape recorded me for 3 days, 2 hours a day and still he lied about everything. It was by far the worst betrayal yet. He should write for comic books since he is best at writing pure fiction.
    I am and was a police officer. My license was still active at the time of the shooting. I was merely a volunteer on that church security team, armed of course, because I am a police officer and the church asked me to be (although they need not have since I am always armed). The gunman, at his first location, shot 4 people, killing 2 of them at a place in Arvada, CO called YWAM (youth with a mission). This was at 12:30 midnight, Dec. 09, 2007. He then escaped, went home and slept. The next morning, same day, he emailed a warning email to New Life Church in Colorado Springs that he was coming there to kill next. I was the only person who was never told of this email (until a retired homicide detective told me about it in late 2011. I then verified this information with the Arvada PD who confirmed it was true).
    Long story short, the gunman did indeed show up at New Life. We later learned he had patiently waited at least one hour in the parking lot of the church. He waited for the marked squads of the Colorado Springs PD to leave. Mistakenly believing that all police officers had left the premise, he then made his move. He shot 5 more people at New Life, 4 in the parking lot, killing 2 sisters and severely wounding their father. I heard his shots inside the church where I was. Before he even entered the church, he fired his re-calibrated AR-15 (was a 5.6 which he made into a 6.8) into the glass doors and into the masses of literally hundreds of men, women and children. His bullets traveled well over the 100 yard length of the very busy East hallway and into the sanctuary. It was an absolute miracle that no one was hit inside that church. A total miracle. The one man who was wounded in the arm was actually struck by a bullet that had bounced off a pillar.
    I saw the gunman at the complete opposite end of the hall where I stood and, without hesitation, I sprinted down the hall straight towards him. People ran past me, away from the gunman. Suddenly, it was quiet and not one single person remained in that hallway except the gunman, and me. Every single person had found a place to hide. I took cover, asked God to be with me, identified myself as a police officer and ordered him to drop his weapon. As he turned his weapon on me, I fired rapidly the first 5 of 10 rounds, knocking him completely on his back. We shot at each other and after hitting him 10 times, the last 3 rounds from only about 5 feet away and having no choice, I killed him. He gave me no choice. I don’t care what folklore you’ve read on the internet, you weren’t there. I was. You didn’t get his blood spatter on your clothes. I did. And I was no security guard, I was a trained police officer. He did not kill himself. I killed him. I am amazed at how gullible so many people are and I am amazed further still at how incredibly unethical some reporters, (newspaper and TV both) have been and how they have lied about me and my incident. But I am not afraid to tell the truth and the truth matters. At least it does to me. I have contacted both Snopes, who are nothing more than a husband/wife team merely repeating gossip as well as Wikipedia. Both “sources” told me they only repeat what has already been printed on the internet. So if you choose to believe sources like that, that’s your choice.

    • Wow, thank you very much for taking the time to write to me, Ms Assam! Indeed, one problem that I have often faced while researching stories for this blog is that if one source has it wrong, a lot of other websites will copy the wrong information verbatim without a hint of skepticism. Needless to say, it can be very difficult to tease out the truth of the matter. I like to think I’m very thorough in my research, but every so often some misinformation slips past me.

      I will edit my post to include the details you have so helpfully provided. Thank you for your service, and for the numerous lives you doubtlessly saved.

      • My pleasure, LC. I’d give anything if you’d also remove that picture with those completely inaccurate words next to it as well. That post has been reposted and re-tweeted so many times I’ve lost count. It contains the exact opposite information from what actually happened-and it greatly bothers me. Thank you for respecting me and for making the corrections. I know anyone who would have to endure what I have had to would also want the truth to be told. I both appreciate and respect you very much for taking my feelings into account. Thank you.

  2. Well, I hate to remove it, since the whole point of my blog is to examine idiotic, untruthful memes like this one and to explain why they’re so stupid. However, I understand your concern; in fact, I share that concern myself. Anybody could copy this meme from my blog and circulate it again without sharing the text that accompanies it, and then the entire point of my post would be lost.

    I have an idea; perhaps I could modify the meme with a watermark in such a way that anybody who copies the image from this blog would also be copying the blog’s URL, and maybe that would lead people here so they can get the real story. Would that be satisfactory?

    • Yes. I like what you’ve done. However, MOST of what Sanchez wrote were blatant and deliberate lies. Why he felt compelled to betray me and completely destroy my reputation as a law enforcement officer and a person still baffles me. I had never met the man. Even if I had previously met him, I would have given him no reason to write such lies about me that have indeed destroyed my reputation as a LE professional. And he, as all reporters have, contacted me. I had never even heard of him before. He approached me by asking, “How would you like to set the record straight about your incident and get a fresh, new start here in Colorado?” Who would that not appeal to after the countless inaccuracies that had already been written?
      The bottom line is that the gunman, under a false name, warned that he was coming to New Life to kill and this was AFTER he had already killed people at YWAM and was still not yet apprehended. Both the church leadership as well as the Colorado Springs PD officials knew of this email, yet church services were not cancelled when clearly, they should have been. Money (tithes and offerings from thousands of people) mattered more than lives. As a result, lives were lost that could have been spared. This is the reason the very negative and false attention was turned on me so the mistakes of both the church and CSPD were not the focus. I was. To this day, the public knows nothing of the truth. They and their lies will be found out one day. I forgive, but how can I forget. I am a human, just like any of you.

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