Blow by blow as the buildings fall: June 4, 2004
(Originally published June 6, 2004 in the Sky-Hi News)
Rage over a zoning dispute turned to cold, calculated revenge as a local man in an armor-plated bulldozer went on a rampage of destruction in the town of Granby last Friday afternoon that left 13 buildings damaged or destroyed and himself dead of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
Marvin Heemeyer, 52, a Grand Lake resident and the former owner of the Mountain View Muffler shop in Granby, took out his revenge over a longstanding dispute over the construction of the Mountain Parks Concrete batch plant. The town of Granby had approved its construction three years ago despite Heemeyer’s vehement objections and his failed lawsuit against the town over it.
In a 90-minute rampage, Heemeyer left a path of destruction through town Friday with a homemade “tank” that he had constructed from a D9 bulldozer. Heemeyer had secretly built his improvised “tank: in a metal shed adjacent to his muffler shop located in an industrial park on the west side of town.
After it was over, Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson denied the characterization of Heemeyer’s rampage as terrorism. Instead, he called it the “act of a single lunatic.”
According to documents found later (see related article), Heemeyer had apparently been working on his machine of destruction for the past 18 months. Officials with the Grand County Sheriff’s Office said there is evidence that Heemeyer had purchased the steel plating to armor the bulldozer a year ago.
An expert welder, Heemeyer had built a superstructure over the cab of the D9 bulldozer and covered it with ½-inch steel plating. He then welded a second series of steel plates over the cab, leaving a gap of four to six inches of space between them. Into the space, he poured concrete to make the protection around the bulldozer cab even more impenetrable. He had also covered the rest of the exterior of the bulldozer with steel plating.
In addition to the heavy steel-and-concrete protection, Heemeyer had armed his “tank” with a .50-caliber semi-automatic rifle which protruded from the rear of its armored cab. He had also installed a 30-caliber semi-automatic rifle out its front and a .22-caliber rifle on the right side. All these weapons were welded to the vehicle’s interior metal frame, but could be shifted to allow them to be aimed at different targets. Heemeyer also had two handguns, a .357 magnum and a .9 mm, with him when he went on his rampage.
Just how carefully and elaborately Heemeyer had built his “tank” can be realized by some of its other accessories. Along with viewing “portholes” with bulletproof glass, he had mounted three video monitors on the inside of the cab that were attached to five cameras on the exterior of the vehicle. It also had a sophisticated air-conditioning system and pipes to blow air over the viewing ports and cameras to keep them clear of moisture and debris.
The incredible chain of events began shortly after 2 p.m. Friday when Heemeyer crashed his converted D9 bulldozer out of the east side of the metal shed where he had built it.
The first target of his plotted revenge was the Mountain Parks Concrete administrative/garage building directly south of the shed. Heemeyer’s bulldozer repeatedly rammed into it, causing the center of the building’s roof to collapse inward. Mountain Parks Concrete owner Cody Docheff reportedly fought hard to save his property from destruction. Getting behind the wheel of a loader, he attempted to block and even upend the “tank,” but was not successful.
Undersheriff Glen Trainor said the first reports of the rampage reached Grand County Dispatch in the form of three 911 calls that came in almost simultaneously at about 2:20 p.m. One of the callers reportedly said that “a bulldozer was tearing down Mountain Parks Concrete.”
Deputies Jim Kraker and Rich Garner responded immediately to the scene, followed by three troopers of the local office of the Colorado State Patrol – Dave Batura, Jack DiSanti and Mike McGinley.
Trainor and Lt. Walt Eldridge, and Deputy John Lynch also responded to the concrete plant. On the way to the scene from the Sheriff’s office in Hot Sulfur Springs, Trainor said Batura radioed dispatch with a report of “automatic weapons fire” coming from the armored bulldozer.
By the time he reached the scene, Trainor said the bulldozer had moved on to the Mountain Parks Concrete’s batch plant located about 200 yards west of the now-heavily damaged administrative building, and was working its way counterclockwise around that building, tearing out its walls and doing heavy damage inside.
The officers on the scene then opened fire with M-14 and AR-15 assault rifles, aiming for what Trainor described as “port holes” that the officers assumed the driver of the bulldozer was using to look through. Subsequent investigation showed these portholes, which were 3 x 6 inches in size, were covered with several sheets of ¾-inch thick Laxan, a clear plastic, bullet-proof material.
When the shooting began, Trainor said the bulldozer turned and “went directly toward” a stock of concrete road barriers where a couple of the State Troopers were sheltering behind. Fortunately, the troopers were able to escape before the bulldozer knocked the barriers over, but Trainor said he had no doubt they would have been killed had they stayed there.
Heemeyer then turned his “tank” toward a number of police vehicles parked nearby where he struck Trainor’s 2000 Ford Expedition, and pushed it several yards before it turned over. The bulldozer then ran over it.
Turning eastward, Heemeyer crashed through a concrete barrier along the property line of the muffler shop, turned south cutting through an eastern berm, drove across the Leevers grocery store’s parking lot and reached Highway 40.
As the bulldozer drove through the parking lot, Trainor ran up to it and somehow pulled himself up onto the top of the 13-foot-tall bulldozer. He was able to do this despite the fact that Heemeyer had greased the exterior of the bulldozer in an attempt to prevent anyone from climbing aboard.
With Trainor clinging to the top of the bulldozer, it turned eastward on Highway 40, which in the town of Granby is its main street called Agate Avenue.
“When I got to the top of the dozer, I immediately noticed the barrel of the .50-caliber semi-automatic rifle that Heemeyer had pointed out of the rear of the vehicle,” Trainor said.
Trying to find a way to disable the vehicle, Trainor spotted a rectangular metal box in the front of the vehicle, which he thought might be its radiator, and “discharged half a dozen rounds into it,” but it had no effect. Subsequently, it was learned that the metal box covered the vehicle’s air-conditioning unit.
Town hall destroyed
The rampage continued as Heemeyer turned his “tank” back onto Highway 40, drove another 100 yards and turned left onto Zero Street which goes past the U.S. Post Office. The next target of Heemeyer’s revenge was the Granby Town Hall, which also houses the Granby Library. Driving across the intersection with Jasper Avenue, Heemeyer drove onto the town hall’s lawn and plowed into the west side of the building, tearing off much of its facade.
With falling debris coming down on top of his perch atop the vehicle, Trainor made one final, desperate attempt to shoot his way through the front porthole with his remaining 12 rounds of ammunition and then jumped off to the grassy lawn below.
Trainor’s next attempt to stop the rampage was to try firing his revolver directly into the vehicle’s forward “port hole” to attempt to hit the driver.
“I saw the plexiglas covering it and hoped that if I discharged enough rounds into it, I could finally penetrate it,” Trainor said. “I thought it was the best possible way to hit him.”
Trainor eventually used a total of 37 rounds in the attempt to break through the Laxan plexiglas. Although he broke through some of the plexiglas sheets, he could not completely penetrate it.
“I kept a dozen rounds in case Heemeyer decided to stop and exit the vehicle so that I could defend myself,” Trainor said. “A deputy threw a ‘flash-bang’ stun grenade up to me and I threw it down its exhaust pipe. It blew up but it had no effect on the operation of the vehicle.”
About 300 yards down the highway, Heemeyer swung the armored bulldozer into the Mountain Parks Electric parking lot and clipped the southwestern corner of the building near its garage doors. He proceeded down the parking lot to the main entrance door of the building where he crashed into the reception area and destroyed the front of the building.
Trainor said he could not definitely prove the reason behind Heemeyer’s attack upon the electric building, but said two of its employees are former Granby town board members.
With Trainor still clinging to the top of the vehicle, Heemeyer continued eastward another 100 yards to the office of the Maple Street Builders. Using the plow of the bulldozer, he pushed the company’s pickup truck through the front of the office.
As Heemeyer worked over the town hall, more deputies arrived on the scene, including Sgt. Norm Rimmer, leader of the Ground County Sheriff’s eight-member SWAT team. Rimmer began organizing further attempts to disable the armored bulldozer while Deputy Jim Campbell activated the Reverse 911 emergency telephone system to warn residents to evacuate the area.
Other deputies arriving to help were Ryan Phillips, Roy Ybarra, Sean Curran, Steve Gilman, Brett Schroetlin, Dodd Jacobsen, Bus Wurm, Terry Marchbanks and Steve Holland. Grand County Sheriff’s investigator Leo Piechocki also arrived to assist.
Heemeyer worked his machine around the rear of the building, ruining the children’s playground and tearing down trees. Pivoting the bulldozer, Heemeyer then drove back across the west side of the town hall, turned eastward onto Jasper Avenue and drove past the main entrance of the town hall leaving it undamaged.
However, Heemeyer was not finished with his destruction of the town hall. He then swung his dozer into the parking lot on the east side of the building where it crushed and mangled three Granby town vehicles and then tore into that side of the building. By the time he turned the bulldozer back eastward onto Jasper Avenue, the town hall was very heavily damaged with its roof bowed inward at its center.
Heemeyer drove a block eastward on Jasper Avenue to the intersection of First Street where he turned right and headed toward the intersection with Agate Avenue where the town’s single stoplight is located. But before entering the intersection, he veered to the left and crashed into the entrance pillars of the Liberty Savings Bank. He then backed up and knocked over a fire plug and damaged the stoplight which ceased to function.
Trainor said he had “no idea” why Heemeyer had attacked the Liberty Savings Bank.
After finishing with the bank, Heemeyer swung wide across Agate Avenue and onto the sidewalk on the south side of the street. He drove down the sidewalk past the Middle Park Agency, Western Guncraft and Alpine West without doing any damage to them except for plowing over two aspen trees.
During its travel from the town hall, the deputies and troopers attempted to shoot up its hydraulic system on the underside of the vehicle. They used their shotguns with “barricade-penetrating projectiles” as well as double-aught buckshot in a desperate attempt to shoot out the vehicle’s “port holes.”
“We used everything we had,” Trainor said.
Deputies and state troopers sped ahead of Heemeyer to clear Granby’s main street of traffic and warn store owners and customers to evacuate.
Swiveling his gargantuan machine back onto Agate Avenue after damaging the bank, Heemeyer drove down the center of the street for three blocks until he reached the Sky-Hi News newspaper building. Editor/publisher Patrick Brower and Winter Park Manifest editor Harry Williamson were still inside the newspaper building after being alerted of the bulldozer rampage. They remained to snap photos of the rampage, and were surprised when the armored bulldozer suddenly altered its course from the center of the street to slam directly into the front of the newspaper building. They were forced to exit the building through its back door.
Heemeyer repeatedly backed in and out of the front of the Sky-Hi News building and then tore a swath of destruction along its east side, with the northeast side of the building eventually collapsing. He moved into the parking lot alongside the building and tried to punch a hole in a southeast corner of the building, but was apparently blocked when he ran into the printing press which is securely bolted to the floor in the rear of the building. That press prints all six of the newspapers published weekly in Grand County by Johnson Media as well as the Jackson County Star newspaper for the North Park area.
Before exiting the newspaper building’s parking lot, the bulldozer damaged three vehicles.
Returning to Agate Avenue, Heemeyer swung his huge machine again eastward and drove another block to the intersection with Sixth Street. Driving across the intersection, which also junctions with County Road 60, Heemeyer drove across the front of the Xcel Energy building, heading for the next object of his revenge which was Thompson & Sons Excavating, the family business of former Granby mayor Dick Thompson. Although Thompson had died three years ago, that did not stop Heemeyer from taking vindictive revenge by completely demolishing Thompson’s home next door which was still being lived in by his 82-year-old widow Thelma and their two daughters.
Before leaving the property, Heemeyer turned on the Xcel Energy service and office building. Before he was done, his dozer had completely mangled one of the company’s pickup trucks and caved in the front of the building. As Heemeyer worked over the Thompson and Xcel buildings, a couple more heroic attempts were made to stop the rampage. Driving a huge county-owned earthmover, Grand County’s Road and Bridge director Clark Branstetter attempted to block the bulldozer in the Xcel property, but Heemeyer rammed into it and disabled it.
The other attempt was made by former Grand Lake fire chief Bret Howcroft, who is an employee of the nearby Independent Gas Company. He ran up to the “tank” carrying a 20-pound propane bottle fitted with a hose and attempted to pump the propane gas into the vehicle’s air-intake in the hope of making its engine “over rev and blow up.” Unfortunately, he was not successful.
Exiting the Xcel parking lot, Heemeyer swung his armored bulldozer across County Road 60 and drove down a dirt service road which descends the hillside to the Independent Gas Company facility. Once in the company’s yard, Heemeyer reportedly maneuvered the bulldozer around to bring its .50-caliber rifle to bear. He first shot at some smaller propane tanks and then tried to hit some electrical transformers located on poled nearby. He finally shot at some of the larger propane tanks.
Authorities speculate that Heemeyer probably hoped to puncture the tanks in order to make them explode or catch fire after the gas was ignited by sparks from the electrical transformers.
Trainor said his information was that none of the propane tanks had been hit by Heemeyer’s shots. The reason that Heemeyer apparently missed these targets was that he could not properly aim his weapons because they did not have “line-of sight.” He had installed the guns separate from both the vision “portholes” and video cameras.
Frustrated by the failure of that part of his diabolical plan, Heemeyer then began driving back up to the dirt service road to head back into town. But it was obvious to those who saw it, that the bulldozer was beginning to experience engine trouble. It started to belch black smoke from its exhaust pipe and Heemeyer turned it off and then restarted it.
While the “tank” was still down the hill near the propane yard, the deputies made one more attempt to “knock out” the vehicle. Kremmling Police officer Scott Spade had brought over a .50-caliber BMG rifle with armor-piercing ammunition. Sgt. Garner fired six shots at Heemeyer creation, but the rounds bounced off its reinforced armor plating.
As Heemeyer headed back up the hill, the local law enforcement officers had reached the point of desperation in their efforts to stop the “tank” that they decided they needed military help. Trainor said Grand County Dispatch was told to contact the Colorado National Guard to request a military aircraft to be sent with weapons that could destroy an armored vehicle. The call was made, but the National Guard did not respond until hours later. Trainor explained that it was learned later that under federal law, American military force cannot be employed against civilian targets unless a state of martial law has been first declared by higher civilian authorities.
Once back up on the hill, Heemeyer drove around the Wrangler Tire store and upended a trailer and damaged two cars. Driving past the 7-Eleven store and onto Agate Avenue again, he veered onto the sidewalk in the next block, clipping off the entrance stairs of the Kopy Kat printing office. His intended target was the Gambles store owned by Casey Ferrell, a former Granby Town Board member.
Heemeyer’s bulldozer tore off the front of the Gambles store and plowed deep into the store on its west side.
And that were the rampage finally ended. The engine of the bulldozer which had been leaking a great amount of hydraulic fluid and antifreeze for much of its journey through the town, finally seized up and quit. Trainor speculated that it had been severely overheated.
Even if engine failure had not ended the rampage, it might have come to an end by other means. County authorities had mobilized more of its heavy equipment and was bringing it into play. As Heemeyer’s dozer plowed into the front of Gambles, another Road & Bridge Department earthmover, again driven by Branstetter, drove across the front of Gambles to block its exit.
With Heemeyer’s leviathan now immobilized in the Gambles store, Grand County Sheriff’s deputies swarmed over the disabled vehicle, whose top protruded above the wreckage. About a minute after it came to a halt, SWAT team leader Norm Rimmer reportedly heard the sound of a shot from the interior of to bulldozer. Authorities speculated later that it was Heemeyer committing suicide with one of his handguns. The county coroner’s report later confirmed that Heemeyer had shot himself in the head with his .357 handgun.
Because of how elaborately Heemeyer had constructed his weapon of revenge, authorities were unsure whether or not the armored bulldozer might be boobytrapped with high explosives. The Grand County SWAT team was pulled back to a safer location and a security perimeter was established.
Granby quickly became an armed camp with hundreds of law enforcement officers converging on scene. In addition to Grand County Sheriff’s deputies and the local Colorado State Patrol troopers, the town saw SWAT teams from police departments from Jefferson and Larimer Counties and Denver’s Federal Heights; the Summit County Sheriff and several of his deputies; law enforcement officers from Rocky Mountain National Park, U.S. Forest Service (John Mayte and Pete Roehns) and Colorado Division of Wildlife (Rob Firth); and agents of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Grand County EMS was on scene as well as the Granby Fire Department and members of the East Grand Fire Department.
Colorado’s Gov. Bill Owens arrived by helicopter Friday afternoon. He consulted with Ground County Sheriff Rod Johnson, Granby mayor Ted Wang and Grand County commissioners James Newberry, Bob Anderson and Duane Dailey, and offered the services of other state agencies.
During the initial crisis, traffic on Highway 40 was temporarily closed. Once Heemeyer’s rampage came to an end, traffic was rerouted on a dirt road along the south side of town.
The parking lot of the 7-Eleven store, which was only 100 yards from where Heemeyer’s disabled “tank” was located, became the tactical operations center for the effort to end the crisis. Demolition experts from the Jefferson County and Larimer County Bomb Squads assembled explosive charges for the operation on the sidewalk outside the store.
After all the preparations were ready, authorities moved everyone back another block. SWAT team members then crept up to Heemeyer’s disabled vehicle and attached the charges. The first, which was detonated at 10:42 p.m., was an attempt to blow off one of the dozer’s tracks to prevent it from moving on the assumption that Heemeyer might still be alive.
About 15 minutes later, the demolition team attached and then detonated the main breaching charge against the left side of the armored bulldozer. The charge proved unable to penetrate the metal-and-concrete side of the vehicle.
Over an hour later, another attempt was made to breach the dozer.
At 1 a.m., a fire truck from the Granby Fire Department moved into the alley behind the ruin of the Gambles store and work began. Trainor said that a breach was finally made about 2 a.m. and it was determined that Heemeyer was dead inside.
Under the supervision of Grand County Coroner Dave Schoenfeld, Heemeyer’s body was finally pulled from his creation about 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning using the long mechanical arm of a crane from Sky Crane of Granby.
About 2:30 p.m., two D8 bull dozers were used to push and pull the armored bulldozer onto Agate Avenue where it was loaded on a trailer and taken away to a storage area on the west side of Granby. It has subsequently been moved to the new Grand County Road & Bridge facility in Fraser where CBI investigators plan to examine it further.
Other than some minor injuries to some of the law enforcement officers, Heemeyer was the only casualty of the rampage.
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