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 an elder at the small Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs. Its 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 Christlike,” said church co-pastor Scott Dontanville.
“He would want us to forgive this man (the gunman) and to go on with our lives,” Dontanville said.
Authorities are holding Robert Lewis Dear, 57, without bail in connection with the shooting.
Swasey’s death has upset the community, the pastor said. “People are just in shock and don’t know what to do.”
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.
“There was no way any of us could have kept him here,” UCCS Police Chief Brian McPike said at a Saturday evening vigil held for Swasey at the university. “He was always willing to go … he had an enthusiasm that was hard to quell.”
Swasey’s efforts ended tragically. He was one of three people killed.
“He will never be forgotten,” said McPike.
“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.
“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 also will observe a moment of silence.
Before becoming a police officer, Swasey was a couples ice dancing champion, according to his former skating partner, Christine Fowler-Binder.
He and Fowler-Binder won the junior national championship in Orlando, Florida, in 1992, she said.
“Garrett is, or was, the most selfless person I knew. Always there as kind of my confidante, my brother, he put up with me. I kind of was pushing him probably over the edge at times, and he always had the patience to calm me down, and you know we worked together like brother and sister would,” Fowler-Binder said.
Fowler-Binder, who’s from Baltimore, moved in 1990 to Swasey’s hometown of Boston to skate with him. They competed in that city for one season, she said.
They moved to Colorado Springs to compete for two more seasons, she said.
Winning the championship was a triumph against all odds, she said.
“The year before, we were dead last in our event at nationals, and Garrett put his arm around me and said, ‘Don’t worry. Next year we’ll be back and we’ll be at the top.’ And we did. It was pretty amazing,” she said.
Swasey grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts, about 10 miles outside downtown Boston, and graduated from Melrose High School in 1989, according to Mayor Robert J. Dolan, who was a classmate.
“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.
Swasey graduated with students who later became officers in Melrose, said police Chief Michael L. Lyle.
“The entire Melrose Police Department mourns the loss of our brother officer and native son of Melrose,” Lyle said in a statement.
Authorities did not provide details about the shooting.