[Editor’s note: The following is a recount of a mass shooting incident by Jeanne Assam, who stopped Mathew Murray from killing countless people inside of New Life Church in Colorado Springs in 2007.
It’s a story of bravery, and it’s a story emphasizing the importance of training for any and all situations that an officer may encounter on- or off-duty.
If the story seems incomplete in parts, it’s because there are details that have still, all these years later, not been confirmed to Jeanne, who still has many questions as to why certain things played out the way they did.
Nevertheless, Jeanne Assam is a true hero and we at Law Enforcement Today are grateful to her for sharing her story with us.]
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – Ask law enforcement officer Jeanne Assam how she views single-handedly protecting the members of New Life Church in Colorado Springs who were present for the worst potential mass shooting in U.S. history, and she’ll tell you it was definitely an assignment from God.
On a beautiful but cold December day in 2007, Assam was forced to kill an active shooter armed with an AR-15. The shooter also had various explosive devises planted in and around the church and at least 3,000 rounds of ammunition. Assam’s actions saved the lives of the 7,000+ members who had stayed to chat after the second and final service ended.
On December 09, 2007, Matthew Murray, a recently turned 24-year old with reported mental health issues, stormed the Arvada Christian discipleship training school called Youth With a Mission (YWAM), where he trained himself to be a missionary in 2002.
At 12:30am, in what would become his first massacre, Murray, who was unknown to the new attendees of YWAM, knocked on the door of the training center and asked if he could wait for a friend who was coming to pick him up.
After becoming uneasy with his hour-long stay, Murray was politely asked to leave by one of the female students of the center. Murray pulled out his 9 mm handgun and fired 12 rounds point-blank into the body of this innocent female who died instantly. Murray then shot three male students who ran to her aid, killing another instantly and wounding the other two before fleeing into the night, his identity unknown.
Murray hurriedly drove back home to the safety of his bizarrely cluttered bedroom in his parent’s home in Englewood, CO, unnoticed by his mother who slept, his father out of town on a business trip.
The next morning, Murray, blogging under one of a couple pseudonyms, wrote of his anger toward Christians in particular, stating:
“Christian America, this is your Columbine.”
According to the investigation that later followed, it was discovered that Murray had written to his next target in Colorado Springs approximately 70 miles away, Pastor Brady Boyd of the mega church, New Life, warning he was coming there to kill.
But one person who knew nothing yet of the shooting in Arvada, nor of the email warning sent to the church, was Jeanne Assam. While she was not a member of the church, she was a dedicated volunteer on its 12-person security team. She was the only female on the team as well as the only police officer. Some of the team members were armed, like Assam, but, for liability purposes, not all were.
On most Sundays, the church was home to approximately 12- to 15,000 members, divided into two services, one at 9:00am and the second at 11:00am. Each service was approximately 90 minutes in length. The church’s busiest area was, without question, the east hallway which housed the nursery, the daycare where parents were able to check their children in and out safely, teen classes, and an adult special needs class.
It was a second home to many.
Assam had been a Colorado transplant. She moved there after serving five years with the Minneapolis Police as a patrol officer in the city’s busiest, most violent, drug ridden area, the north side’s fourth precinct, home to many Crip and Blood gang members.
Assam was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where both her mother and father were also born. Assam’s career into law enforcement began unplanned. Unlike her six siblings who all knew what they wanted to do immediately after college, Assam had no idea.
A series of events during her first year attending Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, however, helped her discover quickly what her true calling was.
After leaving her gym one night after a typical grueling workout, she encountered a man who had broken into her vehicle and was removing things from her car into his own. Assam instinctively asked the man, “What do you think you’re doing? Put it back right now.” The man, without hesitating, began to put Assam’s possessions back into her car.
Some may have forgotten this significant incident, but I never will. I was honored to meet the #PresidentoftheUnitedStates when I did my job well as a #policeofficer. I risked my life so that others could live. Dec. 09, a day I’ll never forget. The majority of cops are good. pic.twitter.com/0xJ7uNiKW0
— Jeanne Assam (@jeanneassam) December 12, 2019
Assam jotted the thief’s license plate down and demanded his driver’s license, an order which he ignored and instead sped off in his car. Assam ran quickly back into the gym and called the St. Paul Police.
When the officer who arrived to take her report had learned what she had done, he offered her a compliment that stuck with her, stating:
“You did a great job. You should become a police officer.”
After exploring her options while attending college and doing several ride-alongs with the much larger city and police department in Minneapolis, Assam had earned two degrees from Hamline University, majoring in Criminal Justice and receiving a minor in psychology.
Assam applied to both twin city police agencies and after all the testing and physical agility, written exams, and requirements were met, was ranked number one on the St. Paul Police list and number three on the Minneapolis Police list. Assam already knew she wanted to work for the much larger, much busier police department: the Minneapolis Police.
Assam excelled in the police academy and after successfully completing the field training program, she was assigned to the fourth precinct which she absolutely loved due the amount of danger and action that occurred on an all day, every day basis.
Assam had truly finally found herself, without question. She was a police officer. That was her true identity.
Assam was greatly appreciated by the citizens she served, receiving countless letters of appreciation. These letters came as a surprise to her, simply because she was merely doing her job as a well-trained police officer.
While living in Denver, she was recruited to became a parole officer with the Department of Corrections in Colorado Springs.
Assam had been a volunteer on New Life church’s security team for several months on that specific Sunday in December. She decided to spend time seeking God and His direction for her life that day rather than volunteer.
That is, until she glanced at her email and noticed a very small sentence in the upper right hand of her computer screen that said there had been a shooting in Arvada, CO at YWAM. Assam was unfamiliar with the organization.
What stood out to her most, however, was that this gunman had killed people, authorities did not know who he was, and he was still on the loose. Assam got chills down her spine, just knowing, for whatever reason, that he was headed south to the church where she was a volunteer on the security team.
Assam immediately called the director of the team and said, “I’m coming in.”
As she showered and prepared to go to the church where she felt so strongly the gunman was headed, Assam knew she may not be coming home that day. Unafraid, she drove the short mile to the church.
Well-trained as a police officer by the Minneapolis Police Department but untrained in any active shooter scenarios, Assam was always very cognizant of her surroundings. She knew she had God with her, but could not share this overwhelming gut feeling with anyone.
Imagining how it would sound if she alerted the off-duty officers that this unknown man who had violently killed innocent people in Arvada was headed their way by assuring the officers that “God had told her” he was, she kept the information to herself.
Most Sunday services at New Life had maybe three off-duty officers; one inside and two outside patrolling the large parking lot. Today, she noticed at least four more officers inside. She didn’t know at the time, but the reason for this was because the pastor had contacted the Colorado Springs Police Department and told them about the email from Murray.
Still, she did not mention the gunman, nor did any of the off-duty officers or any of her fellow security team members. As far as Assam knew, she was the only one with this “internal information.” It was not until 2011 when a now-retired Homicide detective from Colorado Springs had requested to meet with her and told her of this warning email to the church.
Assam stood by one of the regular off-duty officers, who stated he was leaving.
She asked the officer:
“Really? There are still so many people here.”
Normally, most of the people were heading out by now, but thousands were still chatting outside, which was abnormal.
Meanwhile, as the final 11:00 service was still in session, Murray had successfully planted various explosive devices inside and outside the church.
It was now 12:45pm. Murray was patiently waiting in his car in the front parking lot, talking on the phone to a female friend when he watched all the Colorado Springs Police cars leave. An onlooker overheard him abruptly finish the conversation by stating:
“I have to go. I’m going to church.”
Once the CSPD squads had all left, Murray quickly put his second deadly plan into action.
He planted smoke devices around the front and sides and back of the church parking lot for unknown reasons. He chose to park cock-eyed in the back parking lot where he calmly and slowly, by eye witness statements, opened the trunk of his red car and took out his AR-15 which some witnesses mistook for a paint ball gun.
Murray had on all black clothing: Black BDUs, knee pads, black combat boots and a long-sleeve black shirt. He also had on what some described as an old army helmet.
Murray began firing at the Works family of five who were getting ready to head to lunch. He shot one of the daughters in the head and chest, killing her instantly. A second daughter died later in the hospital. The girls were 18 and 16 years old.
Their father, David, was struck three times, nearly killing him, but he survived.
Murray headed into the busy east hallway of the church where now literally hundreds of men, women and children were gathered.
He emptied one full 30-round magazine into the glass doors of the church where he was deliberately firing into the masses of people. Unquestionably a miracle, no one was struck.
Meanwhile, the rounds being fired outside alerted Assam to what God had told her in her home previously that morning: The active shooter had indeed driven the 70 plus miles to Colorado Springs and to the same church she volunteered at.
Assam heard the cracks of a high-powered rifle and was certain the gunman was inside the church, but she could not see him through the hundreds of now screaming people.
Assam heard a man yell:
“Get down, he’s got a gun!”
She looked down the hallway 100 plus yards from where she was and shouted to her teammate, asking where the shooter was.
Her teammate yelled back:
“There he is, Jeanne! He’s coming in the doors right now!”
Immediately, Assam spotted him, took the gun out of the front waistband of her jeans and sprinted down the hall directly at the shooter as everyone else ran past her in the opposite direction, trying desperately to find cover.
In an instant, the hall was empty and eerily quiet.
It was just God, the gunman and Jeanne Assam.
Assam stopped running and now walked calmly as the gunman shouldered his AR-15 and opened the second and last set of glass doors. She had gotten far up the hallway and needed to take immediate cover. She knew she only had seconds to come up with a plan, as the gunman was firing deliberately down the hall trying to strike the elderly and terrified volunteers who lay on the floor of the front lobby information booth.
Assam was not afraid and was in fact very much in her element. The more the chaos, the calmer she was.
She prayed one last but very crucial prayer:
“God, please just be with me.”
As she stood in a very narrow hallway that was perpendicular to the east hallway that was approximately 100 yards long and 30 feet wide, she stepped out and shouted, as she had been trained:
“Police officer! Drop your weapon!”
Instantly, Assam felt the most incredible, powerful presence surround her. She knew without question it was God protecting her.
Murray pointed his AR at her and before he could squeeze off a round, Assam fired five rapid rounds at him, knocking him completely on his back at a distance of 63 feet, according to the police report.
Assam, with her Beretta 92 FS handgun that held 16 rounds, walked quickly towards him, her gun still pointed at him and warned again:
“Drop your weapon or I will kill you.”
Murray sat up and fired his AR at her, but he missed her. Assam, unwavering, immediately returned fire, striking him again.
Assam later noticed bullet holes in the wall where she had stood. She knew it was because God had shielded her when she called upon and asked Him to do so.
Murray began to crawl towards another hallway, unable to stand due to being shot in both legs. Assam knew she could not let him out of her sight.
Assam watched as Murray, bleeding heavily, lay on his back in a large puddle of blood, only able to prop his head against the wall. She noticed he had grenades on his weight bearing vest, which was not bullet-proof.
Assam, at this point, felt fear.
She knew that if he managed to pull the pin of that grenade, not only would she explode into tiny pieces, but so would all the people hiding in the nearby classrooms and bathrooms.
Assam shot another three rounds into the upper face/neck area of Murray, striking him in the carotid artery.
Assam was now less than five feet from the suspect. She watched him slump, heard him take one last breath and was right beside him when he died, with his AR-15 pointed towards the ground.
Blood shot straight up from his neck several inches into the air. Assam was sad that this man had been so angry and confused that he felt he needed to kill innocent strangers. She was also 100% certain this was the same man who had killed the students in Arvada at YWAM.
Immediately after Murray was presumably dead, a member of the church ran up to Assam and excitedly and gleefully shouted at her:
“That was the coolest thing I have ever seen! How did you do that?”
Then a security team member told her to go check the lobby while he stayed with the deceased gunman. Assam ran down the hall and cleared the lobby and at that time also noticed CSPD squads pulling up to the front of the church.
Assam ran back down the hall to where the four remaining team members stood by the gunman’s body. A SWAT team then entered in the east hallway.
They had entered crouched down, but stood up straight and asked in great surprise:
“Who killed him?”
The four security team members, without saying anything, all pointed at Assam. Assam, also without saying anything, raised her hand.
Assam was taken downtown for questioning after her gun was taken off of her by a uniformed police officer for evidence, as is customary after a shooting.
After it was over, the coroner, having completed his report, reported:
“[S]triking and hitting Murray multiple times, Assam killed him.”
Days later, it was documented that the coroner mysteriously changed his report, stating this time that Murray killed himself.
Later, the coroner changed his report yet again and stated he was uncertain whether Murray or Assam killed the gunman.
"Dec 2009 Matthew Murray opened fire on New Life’s CO Springs facility shooting four people and killing two-Jeanne Assam then a 42-year-old volunteer security guard shot the gunman—who fatally shot himself soon afterward—as he entered the church"https://t.co/zJvy1P6ZoX
— dennyyloc (@denny63177874) May 6, 2019
Assam is 100% certain she killed Murray. Witnesses observed her kill Murray. The first coroner report stated that she killed Murray.
And yet, for reasons which this author can only speculate, the report was changed and Jeanne Assam was robbed of her victory on paper.
But she will never be robbed of the victory in real life. No one will ever be able to take away the fact that she saved countless lives on that December day.
Even then-President George W. Bush recognized her heroism in January of 2008, when the White House called and said the President wished to meet her on the tarmac of Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado.
When she met him, he told her:
“Good job. I’m proud of you.”
Eleven years later, Assam is invited to share her incident with various organizations including law enforcement organizations as well as church security groups. She has also been the guest on many news programs including FOX, CNN, Larry King Live, Pierce Morgan and many more.
Assam, to this day, is a leading expert in mass shooting training and continues to give interviews. For more information on how to protect your businesses, schools, or churches or for booking of speaking engagements, please contact Jeanne Assam at [email protected].
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