A former University of Wyoming law student’s social media posts led campus authorities to warn students about him almost two months before he killed a sheriff’s deputy in Colorado. Those posts were not criminal in nature and “almost nonsensical,” according to a UW official.
Matthew Riehl, 37, fired more than 100 rounds in his suburban Denver apartment Sunday night and killed a sheriff’s deputy and wounded four more. A SWAT team later killed Riehl.
University of Wyoming spokesman Chad Baldwin said the posts were made in late October. They contained no “overt threat,” he said, but they were “extremely vulgar, outrageous, just almost nonsensical.”
Some included references to committing “sexual acts,” Baldwin said, and some of Riehl’s posts were directed at specific faculty and staff members. Some also included references to rape, Baldwin continued, and the posts included claims that faculty and staff had committed sexual acts with people or wanted to.
College of Law staff saw the posts and notified law enforcement. The university also sent an email on Nov. 6 to faculty, staff and students notifying them to alert law enforcement if they saw Riehl or his car. Security on campus was also increased for several days.
Campus officers called Lone Tree, Colorado, police in mid-November to warn them about Riehl, UW Police Chief Mike Samp said. The University of Wyoming Police Department attempted to contact Riehl but were unsuccessful. They did speak with his family.
There was a significant amount of rage in the posts, Baldwin said, and, coupled with the concern that Riehl was mentally unstable, the university felt it was appropriate to take action.
University police determined there was no criminal conduct that they could act upon, Baldwin said. But there was an increased UW police department presence near the college, including more patrols, for about two weeks in November.
“They were there more than they would’ve been otherwise,” Baldwin said of police.
Baldwin said Riehl was in Colorado at the time that he made the posts.
After graduating from the law school, Riehl joined the Wyoming State Bar in 2011, the bar’s executive director said Tuesday.
Riehl worked as an associate attorney at a Rawlins law firm from June 2011 through February 2014, according to a lawyer at the firm.
William MacPherson, of the Rawlins law firm, wrote in an emailed statement that the firm had no contact with Riehl, “either socially or professionally,” since he left the firm.
“MacPherson, Kelly & Thompson, LLC expresses its heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies to the victims and their families,” MacPherson wrote in the statement.
MacPherson did not specify in the statement why Riehl left the firm or the reason for the lack of contact.
After leaving the firm, Riehl practiced on his own before rescinding his bar membership in 2016.
Early Sunday, authorities responded to a complaint of a verbal disturbance involving two men at an apartment building in Highlands Ranch, 16 miles south of Denver. A caller said Riehl was acting bizarre and might be having a mental breakdown, but responding deputies found no evidence of a crime and left.
When deputies were called back to the scene, a man who had left gave them a key and granted permission to enter the apartment.
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said deputies came under fire almost immediately after trying to talk with the suspect, who was holed up inside a bedroom.
“They all went down almost within seconds of each other, so it was more of an ambush-type of attack on our officers,” Spurlock said.
The three wounded deputies tried to pull the fallen officer, Zackari Parrish, out of the line of further gunfire but were unable to because of their own injuries and only managed to “crawl to safety,” Spurlock said. Two civilians and a police officer also were injured.
All of the wounded except Deputy Jeff Pelle, 32, have been treated at hospitals and released. The son of Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle was in fair condition.
Hundreds gathered Monday night for a candlelight vigil for Parrish inside Mission Hills Church in Littleton, Colorado — the church he attended with his wife and two young daughters.
“I’ve heard from so many different people that he just loved his community and being a police officer,” Mission Hills Pastor Craig Smith said.
“Zack didn’t see law enforcement as a job. He saw it as a calling, as a way to serve his community and a blessing.”