BAILEY, Colo. (AP/CBS4) – A man who spent years fighting the foreclosure of his Colorado home and ranted online about police and corporate corruption shot three law enforcement officers trying to serve an eviction notice Wednesday, killing one and wounding the others, authorities said.
The officers fired back in this forested mountain community, killing the gunman identified by police as 58-year-old Martin Wirth.
Eight officers from the Park County Sheriff’s Office went to the snow-covered two-story home in a hillside neighborhood north of the town of Bailey to serve what authorities described as a “high-risk” eviction notice. The well-maintained houses sit on big lots, with room for horses to graze in an area popular with hunters and anglers.
Wirth appeared on the deck of his home when the officers arrived, then went back inside, according to the Park County sheriff’s office account of the shooting.
Officers followed him in, and Wirth fired on them, prompting them to return fire, sheriff’s officials said.
The shooting killed Corporal Nate Carrigan, a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. One of the wounded officers underwent surgery for life-threatening injuries and was in critical condition.
The other was treated and released from a hospital after a bullet grazed his ear, Colorado Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Susan Medina said.
Medina declined to say why the sheriff’s office considered it a risk to serve Wirth with the eviction notice.
“They had background information about the suspect in this case, but we’re just not going to talk about it at this time,” she said.
Wirth owned the home until March 2014 after failing to pay more than $116,000 he owed. Fannie Mae, the government-controlled mortgage company, took ownership after he lost a court battle over his foreclosure.
In a YouTube video, Wirth admitted not making payments to his mortgage company.
“I did not pay mortgage to a bunch of crooks,” he says in the video.
After Wirth lost his case in state court, he sued Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the state attorney general and a judge in 2013. The federal lawsuit claimed that state foreclosure laws were unconstitutional and that Wirth and his unnamed guests were “in imminent danger of being wrongfully deprived of home and property while also being threatened with an armed and forcible entry onto the property and into the home.”
He asked a federal judge to block Park County from selling his home, evicting him or forcibly entering the house and to strike down several state laws. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit last September.
A website by a group called the Colorado Foreclosure Resistance Coalition includes undated posts that called for supporters to join Wirth in “non-violent eviction resistance.” The website includes a video of a man identified as Wirth railing against mortgage companies as criminals.
A call to the group, whose website says it is part of the Occupy movement, was not immediately returned.
Tim Holland, who was involved in the Occupy Denver movement with Wirth, struggled to reconcile the shooting with his memories of Wirth as a “sweet, quirky, kindhearted guy.”
“It seems to me that he was just pushed to the end of his rope, and he tried every single approach to addressing his grievances, and at the end, he chose to not let them take his house away from him,” Holland said. “It’s the middle of winter in the mountains. Where was he going to go?”
Wirth ran for the state Senate in 2014 as a Green Party candidate, but he lost to an incumbent Republican. In a questionnaire to candidates by The Denver Post, Wirth wrote of corruption in the political system, his support for Colorado’s marijuana laws and the plight of the poor.
In a Facebook posting he called himself a “high value target” and railed on police calling them “a brutal impediment to human progress” and a “danger to us all” … “because I write such things cops want me dead.”
When asked whether he supported the death penalty, Wirth wrote, “Killing people to show that killing people is wrong is a piece of idiotic hypocrisy.”
He also wrote disparagingly of the federal government and corporations on his candidate page on Facebook and praised former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked millions of documents about government surveillance. He made regular posts criticizing leading presidential candidates from both parties.
Neighbor Terry Rogers, a counselor and pastor at Platte Canyon Community Church, said he did not know Wirth well and believes no one in the area did.
“He was pretty reclusive,” said Rogers, who could see law enforcement vehicles responding to the shooting across a snow-covered pasture from his driveway.
The area of rocky, pine-covered hills is about 45 miles southwest of Denver where several camps host Girl Scouts and other youth during the summer. The neighborhood is several miles outside Bailey, a hamlet of just a few restaurants and shops.
There, a gunman took several girls hostage in a high school classroom a decade ago, killing one before himself.
Sam Lung, who lives nearby, said he often hears gunshots in the area, which has a target practice site.
He said people often shoot in their backyards, “practicing their Second Amendment rights.” He said he did not hear the gunshots Wednesday.
“It is a dark day,” Medina said.
– By DONNA BRYSON, AP Writer
Volz reported from Helena, Montana. Associated Press writers Sadie Gurman and Colleen Slevin and CBS4 contributed to this report.
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