COLORADO SPRING, Colo. — 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.
In a statement released Sunday, Rachel Swasey described him as “a devoted husband of 17 years and a wonderful father to his two children.”
“His greatest joys were his family, his church, and his profession,” she said. “We will cherish his memory, especially those times he spent tossing the football to his son and snuggling with his daughter on the couch.”
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.
“Helping others brought him deep satisfaction and being a police officer was a part of him,” his wife said Sunday. “In the end, his last act was for the safety and wellbeing of others and was a tribute to his life.”
‘A very gentle spirit’
When Swasey’s family learned of his death, Kurt Aichele was at their side. He’s a co-pastor of Hope Chapel, where Swasey was an elder and played a large role in the church community.
“We were at the house when Mrs. Swasey had to share the news with her children,” Aichele said. “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.”
Mourners packed Hope Chapel on Sunday, praying for Swasey’s family.
The officer’s death has devastated the congregation, church co-pastor Scott Dontanville said. “People are just in shock and don’t know what to do.”
“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,” Dontanville said.
Swasey played guitar at the church, and his wife watches children in the nursery.
He was talented at many things, Dontanville said, but “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.
After Sunday’s service, Jason Churchill told CNN affiliate KCNC that he knew how the officer would respond if he came face to face again with 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear, the alleged gunman who’s being held without bail in the shooting.
“If he were to repent and believe … Garrett would be the first one to greet him as he came into heaven, because Garrett believed in forgiveness,” Churchill said. “He was also my hero, because I could look to him and say, ‘This is the kind of person I want to be.’ ”
Champion figure skater
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.
As a child, he skated with former U.S. National Champion Nancy Kerrigan.
“He’s still in my heart like a little brother. A true friend (and a) very loyal, caring person and a good listener,” Kerrigan told CNN affiliate WBZ.
Christine Fowler-Binder, who won a junior national championship with Swasey in 1992, also said he was like a brother to her.
“Garrett is, or was, the most selfless person I knew. Always there as kind of my confidante, my brother, he put up with me,” she said. “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, 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.