Officer Garrett Swasey, who rushed 10 miles to help fellow police under fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, led a big-spirited life rooted in family and faith with the soft touch of an ice dancer.
That’s because he won a skating championship decades ago.
Until he was killed Friday in a gunman’s attack, he was also an elder at the small Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs, whose website features Swasey smiling with wife Rachel; daughter Faith, 6; and son Elijah, who will be 11 this month.
“He might not be in alignment with the abortion industry, but he’d be willing to go in and lay down his life for those people, and that’s just the testimony to me of the kind of man that he is. Not just courageous but Christ-like,” said church co-pastor Scott Dontanville.
“He would want us to forgive this man (who was the gunman) and to go on with our lives,” Dontanville added.
Authorities are holding Robert Lewis Dear, 57, without bail in connection with the shooting.
Swasey’s death has upset the community, the pastor added.
“People are just in shock and don’t know what to do,” he said.
Swasey, 44, worked as a police officer for the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs for the past six years, and he was on campus Friday morning when the shooting started 10 miles away.
He hurried to the crime scene to support a city police officer facing gunfire, the university said in a statement. The university’s officers are state-certified police.
Swasey’s efforts ended tragically. He was one of three people killed Friday.
“I have known him for about 10 years and watched him faithfully serve and place others before himself in nearly every situation,” said Kurt Aichele, also a co-pastor of the church where Swasey was an elder.
Swasey played guitar at the church, and his wife watches children in the nursery.
Swasey held a pleasant nature, and though talented at many things, “Garrett wasn’t a guy that boasted about himself,” Dontanville said.
Last week, Swasey and Dontanville played music together before the church congregation, the co-pastor said.
“I had played the wrong chords through the whole song,” he said. “And he just followed me in that. And afterwards, he said, ‘Bro, we just took a huge train wreck here’ — but just laughing.
“I will miss Garrett’s laugh, and he cared about others and had a very gentle spirit about him,” Dontanville said.
Swasey, a Boston area native, moved to Colorado Springs in the early 1990s to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center as a champion ice dancer until he retired and became an officer, according to a YouCaring crowdfunding website established by a family friend.
Aichele was with Swasey’s family when they learned of his death, he said.
“We received the news because of our relationship with the Swaseys,” Aichele said. “We were at the house when Mrs. Swasey had to share the news with her children. The cries and sobs of her children learning that their daddy is never returning is something that will be etched in my mind for the rest of my life.”
The University of Colorado basketball teams in Colorado Springs were to hold a moment of silence for Swasey before their games Saturday afternoon, the school said. The University of Colorado football team will also observe a moment of silence during its game Saturday.
Before becoming a police officer, Swasey was a junior national couples ice dancing champion, The Denver Post reported.
He and his partner won the junior national championship in Orlando in 1992, the paper cited university spokesman Jared Verner as saying. A few years after the championship win, Swasey performed in a musical skating show in Maine.
Swasey grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts, about 10 miles outside downtown Boston, and graduated from Melrose High School in 1989, Mayor Robert J. Dolan said.
“I remember him to be a kind and caring young man with many friends, dedicated to his skating career, and excelling in all areas at Melrose High School,” the mayor said in a statement.
Authorities did not provide details about the shooting. A law enforcement official identified the suspect as Robert Lewis Dear, 59, who surrendered hours after barricading himself in the clinic with hostages, officials said.