State orders Capitol security review after fatal shooting
Associated Press Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
DENVER (AP) ” Trying to strike a balance between safety and openness, state officials ordered a thorough review of security measures at the Capitol Wednesday, two days after an armed man was shot and killed outside the governor’s office.
Aaron Snyder, 32, was shot by a state trooper on Monday after declaring he was “the emperor,” showing a gun and refusing orders to back down.
No metal detectors were in place at the Capitol that day. The devices had not been used routinely at the building since 2002, but Monday’s events prompted Gov. Bill Ritter to call for officials to reconsider.
The issue is a delicate one, with the governor and many lawmakers expressing concern about the safety of state workers and visitors but worrying about making it too difficult for the public to visit what they call “the people’s building.”
Ritter has already ordered a metal detector returned to the Capitol while officials decide what permanent steps to take, and all visitors must go through it to enter the building.
The device will remain in place while the review is under way, Ritter said.
The Legislature’s Executive Council, made up of top lawmakers, directed the Colorado Department of Public Safety to look for weak spots and possible improvements in Capitol security and report back in two weeks.
The current system is known to include surveillance cameras and at least some armed state troopers and security officers, but many details remain secret. Lawmakers said the Capitol’s many entrances, architecture and age make it difficult to secure. They declined to publicly discuss specific weaknesses.
Ritter and the lawmakers discussed Capitol security in a closed session Wednesday after Ritter said he didn’t want anyone to learn how to get around the measures now in place.
“All too sadly, we witnessed this week just such an incident,” he said. “I don’t know how much he knew about building security, or whatever, but he certainly breached the peace in this building.”
Investigators have not determined what prompted Snyder to go to the Capitol with a loaded .357 handgun and proclaim, “I am the emperor and I’m here to take over state government.”
Snyder had been escorted out of Ritter’s office when he pulled back his coat to reveal the handgun and moved toward a state trooper, Police Chief Gerry Whitman said. Snyder did not draw the weapon but ignored two warnings that the trooper would fire if he did not stop.
Trooper Jay Hemphill, a 12-year member of the state patrol, shot Snyder twice in the chest and once in the head, officials said.
“The trooper did exactly what he was trained to do to protect himself,” Whitman said.
Ritter was inside the office and heard the shots. No one besides the gunman was hurt.
Whitman said Snyder bought the Smith and Wesson handgun legally in April. Jason Perez, manager of the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Thornton, said Snyder passed the required state background check for gun purchases.
Without elaborating, Whitman said Snyder appeared to have “some type of mental problem.” He said he did not know whether Snyder was on medication or getting treatment.
Snyder’s mother, Kathie Snyder of Thornton, told police before the shooting her son had been diagnosed as “delusional” and was being treated by a psychiatrist.
Aaron Snyder lived with his parents.
Earlier Monday, he had rented a tuxedo and told a woman it was “the day of the emperor’s reign.” Police said he also sent a co-worker an e-mail that day saying God made him “the emperor, the sovereign ruler of this nation.”
Metal detectors had been installed at the Capitol after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the building was closed to the public. It was reopened less than a month later under heightened security.
Public access was limited to one entrance equipped with a metal detector, and viewing balconies in the dome were placed off-limits.
The metal detectors were removed nine months later over concerns from lawmakers that they were too much of an obstacle to Coloradans who want to visit. The dome was reopened this year.
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