COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Faith led Garrett Swasey to a career in public service and pastoral care, and duty led him to a Planned Parenthood clinic where he was gunned down.
The 44-year-old Swasey was the first of three victims to be identified in the shootings Friday at the clinic.
Married with two children, Swasey worked as a police officer at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. He was there when he was called to assist with an active shooter at the nearby clinic.
Swasey was originally from Melrose, Massachusetts, where Police Chief Michael Lyle said he dedicated much of his life to helping others.
At the University of Colorado, Swasey was known for going out of his way to help, including recently stopping to help someone in a serious car accident just off campus even though he was off duty and headed home, Lt. Marc Pino said. Pino also recalled that Swasey was disappointed he wasn’t more involved with responding to the Waldo Canyon wildfire, which destroyed over 340 homes and killed two people in 2012.
“Garrett was always that person who was wanting to be the first one there helping people out,” he said.
He moved to Colorado in the 1980s to pursue competitive figure skating, his father told the Boston Globe. He became a police officer six years ago, around the time his daughter was born, 73-year-old David Swasey said.
“He was a great dad,” Swasey told the newspaper. “I mean, a super dad. Everybody in the police department loved him. Anybody who ever met him loved him. He was a great guy, a great person.”
As a skater, Garrett Swasey won a national championship in the junior ranks and competed in the U.S. Championships at least three times, his father said.
Swasey was also a co-pastor at Hope Chapel, an evangelical church in Colorado Springs.
He and his wife, Rachel, began attending in 2001, according to a bio on the church’s website. “As they raise their son, Elijah, and daughter, Faith, they view the members of the church as their family,” the bio reads.
“Here’s a guy who worked full time as a police officer, and then gave a great amount of time to his local church and didn’t get a dime for it,” the Rev. Scott Dontanville, a co-pastor who knew Swasey for 15 years, told The New York Times.
Dontanville told the Globe that he and Swasey, a fan of the New England Patriots, often would tease each other about football since Dontanville roots for the Denver Broncos.
“That’s something he would always give us trouble for on Sunday morning,” he told the newspaper. “He was an awesome man…Great father, great husband, good friend – caring, compassionate.”
President Barack Obama praised Swasey in a statement released by the White House: “May God bless Officer Garrett Swasey and the Americans he tried to save – and may He grant the rest of us the courage to do the same thing.”
Little was known about the other two people who were killed or the nine who were wounded.
The regional head of Planned Parenthood said none of the clinic’s 15 employees at the clinic Friday were hurt. Vicki Cowart said the group was tracking down patients who might have been headed to the clinic Friday afternoon, but hadn’t discovered who the victims were.
Colorado Springs Fire Department Chief Chris Riley visited four injured officers Friday night. All had been shot but were talking and expected to recover, he said.
“Their spirits are good,” Riley said after visiting them. “They’re obviously in pain. But they’re alive and talking to us. They’re heroes. Absolute heroes.”
Six police officers and dispatcher from the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs attended a campus basketball game Saturday and stood for a moment of silence for Swasey.
None of the officers talked to reporters after the ceremony, though one cried into the shoulder of the school mascot.
(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)