It was June 4, 2004, when Marvin Heemeyer entombed himself in a modified Komatsu bulldozer and broke through the sheet metal building he’d called home, more or less, since the previous spring.
Complete with a small arsenal, embrasures and around 20 tons of armor, Heemeyer’s machine was impregnable. A do-it-yourself tank.
And for Heemeyer, it was the hand of God incarnate.
When the dust settled, 13 buildings were destroyed or damaged, livelihoods were lost and Heemeyer was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
It’s been 10 years since Heemeyer’s rampage, but the financial, emotional and psychological tolls still linger.
Casey Farrell sits at a small desk tucked at the back of Gambles, his appliance and mattress store downtown.
It was here that Heemeyer took his own life after his machine became stuck in the store’s basement.
Farrell decided to leave town that day after hearing about the rampage. He was at a friend’s house when he heard the bulldozer was razing his 12 year-old business. It was being broadcast live from a news helicopter, but Farrell said he couldn’t watch.
“My world just turned upside down,” Farrell said. “But I thought, ‘well OK, we’ve got insurance.’ We did, just not enough.”
Some of the merchandise was salvaged, but Farrell’s building was a total loss. It took more than seven years to reopen.
“I still don’t have back what I had before that,” he said.
Gambles had been a hardware store with five employees. It’s now an appliance and mattress store with two.
The event took a toll on Farrell’s peace of mind, too.
“It’s not that I don’t feel safe, but it changed the way that you look at people, at stuff,” Farrell said. “I don’t know how to put it into words really.”
One victim, however, is trying to do just that.
Patrick Brower, who was publisher and managing editor of the Sky-Hi News at the time, recently finished a book about the Heemeyer rampage.
Brower, one of Heemeyer’s targets, covered the day’s events on June 4, 2004, as they unfolded, eventually escaping from the newspaper building as Heemeyer drove into the front.
The Sky-Hi News building was completely destroyed.
Brower wrote the book to dispel what he saw as a false narrative of Heemeyer as a hero and a victim, he said.
“I think the story about the ‘killdozer’ is interesting in and of itself,” said Brower, “but also I’ve seen that the way people have venerated Marv and praised him after the fact — without even really knowing what happened or the facts of the situation — has been repeated in many other rampages and tragedies in America since then.”
This praise of Heemeyer is what still bothers Brower, he said.
“How many people lose petty zoning fights with government in America?” Brower said. “Everybody, all the time. That’s not an excuse to go out and tear the town to pieces and shoot at people.”
Though not everyone experienced material losses as profound as Farrell and Brower, many still feel the emotional tolls of the chaos and destruction.
Julie Martin was the town’s recreation director when the rampage occurred. She had just left work to pick up her children when Heemeyer began demolishing the Granby town hall.
During the confusion, Martin was unable to contact her husband or her oldest son.
“It hit me hard,” she said. “I still struggle with my emotions about it sometimes because it was scary.”
Coming to terms
It’s undeniable that the cost of Heemeyer’s rampage was immense, but some believe that good did come from the destruction.
Winter Park/Fraser Police Chief Glen Trainor was the county undersheriff in June of 2004. He’s best known for jumping atop the bulldozer and attempting to breach the hatch.
Trainor said he looks back on the incident as a traumatic event for all of those involved, but he also believes it helped bolster the county’s emergency services.
“It brought emergency preparedness to the forefront in Grand County,” Trainor said. “We’re not always going to be this sleepy place where nothing bad ever happens.”
Farrell remarked that the community response to his store’s destruction was “unbelievable.”
Community members arrived after his business was destroyed to help him salvage what was left. It was a moment that showcased the strength of the community, as well as a much wider-ranging unity.
“Americans are good people,” Farrell said. “Not only the community here, but man we got money from people (who) barely knew us.”
Spurlin said that the common experience had brought her coworkers together.
“It made all of us closer, and I learned to communicate better,” she said.
Both Martin and Spurlin said they believe the town has more or less recovered from the bulldozer incident, though Spurlin said the town would be paying off its new building for another 13 years. And the memories will likely linger much longer.
“The world had 9/11, and we had this bulldozer,” Martin said.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.
“It brought emergency preparedness to the forefront in Grand County. We’re not always going to be this sleepy place where nothing bad ever happens.”
On June 4, 2004, bulldozer rampage