The gunman who was shot to death outside Gov. Bill Ritter's office at the state Capitol on Monday never drew his weapon, Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman said Tuesday.
But Aaron Richard Snyder, the man who declared himself "the emperor of Colorado," did pull back his tuxedo jacket to reveal a holster with a loaded Smith & Wesson .357-caliber Magnum revolver and kept advancing on the Colorado State Patrol trooper who had ordered him to halt.
After twice ordering Snyder to stop, Trooper Jay Hemphill shot him dead, hitting the 32-year-old Thornton man twice in the chest and once in the head, Whitman said. It was the first ever fatal shooting inside the state Capitol.
When investigators searched the dead man's pockets, they found a 6-inch hunting knife and 20 bullets, Whitman said during a news conference Tuesday on the west steps of the Capitol.
Whitman said that, based on his preliminary understanding of the facts, Hemphill appeared to have been justified in killing Snyder.
"The trooper did exactly what he was trained to do, and what he needed to do to protect himself," Whitman said.
Moments earlier, Ritter also praised Hemphill and the security detail assigned to protect the governor and his staff. The governor, a former Denver district attorney, said he had spoken to Hemphill earlier Tuesday.
Ritter said it is important that the investigation of the shooting proceed, but added, "I just appreciate Jay Hemphill and his professionalism.
Hemphill remains on routine administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
Whitman said investigators are piecing together a timeline of Snyder's actions during the final hours of his life. They know he spent about 10 minutes with a clerk at Mister Neat's Tuxedo shop in Northglenn about 10 a.m., and that he spent another 20 minutes inside the dressing room.
The encounter so unnerved the store clerk that she reported his bizarre behavior and comments as soon as Snyder left the store.
Whitman said investigators found Snyder's 2004 black Kia parked in the 1200 block of Cherokee Street, near the Capitol.
Police also were examining an e-mail that Snyder sent from a Fort Collins company where he had worked.
Witnesses reported seeing Snyder kneeling as if in prayer moments before he tried to enter Ritter's temporary offices in what normally serves as the lieutenant governor's office. The governor's regular office is undergoing renovations as part of a five-year project to bring the Capitol up to safety codes.
Mental health issues
On Tuesday, police searched the Thornton home where Snyder lived with his parents. The affidavits for the search warrant remain sealed by the court.
Whitman said the family has been cooperative thus far with investigators but added that they have hired a lawyer.
Both Whitman and Ritter said it appeared that Snyder was experiencing some mental health problems.
"It does seem like he was having some sort of psychotic lapse, thinking he was going to be emperor of the state," Ritter said.
When asked if he felt as though he were the target of an assassination attempt, Ritter remained noncommittal.
"I don't have a sense that that's accurate. But I also don't have a sense that you're wrong about that," he said.
Ritter revealed that a member of his staff triggered the alert at the Capitol by alerting Hemphill, who was stationed within the governor's office. At some point, Hemphill pressed a button that indicates "officer needs help."
The governor also described how he talked to his office staff and the building employees Tuesday morning about the incident. He said that trauma counselors were made available to them.
"I likened a violent act to a big rock that is thrown in the middle of a still pond," he said. Like the waves that result, the repercussions can grow larger, the further they get from the central incident, he said.
Ritter said he will begin meeting with the State Patrol and lawmakers today to begin a discussion of what security provisions are appropriate at the Capitol in the wake of Monday's shooting.