The active shooter was wearing black shorts, a floppy hat and tactical gear, and he had already killed an Arvada police officer. He was shooting out windows in police cars in a busy shopping and restaurant district in Olde Town Arvada during lunch hour one year ago.
Three fellow officers in a nearby substation — in shorts and polo shirts — were worried they weren’t wearing the right gear to safely face him. They instead watched the man with an AR-15 from the window as he walked toward the main square of Olde Town, according to investigative documents.
Johnny Hurley, 40, was shopping at an Army surplus store a block over and peered out the window, spotting the shooter. He ran out of the store and removed his concealed gun at his waist, beneath his shirt.
Hurley had trained for active shooter situations — not because it was part of his work, but because he wanted to help people and save lives.
Crouching down, he ran across a vacant, shady plaza with umbrellas and tables, gripping his gun as it pointed toward the ground. Hurley knelt down behind a brick wall and carefully watched the shooter. Hurley took aim and fired six rounds from his handgun, five struck the gunman, according to his lawyers.
The entire scene was captured on surveillance camera footage.
“I have to admit it’s kind of exciting to see the way he handled himself,” said his mother, Kathleen Boleyn. “The way he took all the training and practice that he’s had and did the right thing.”
Hurley continued to try to do the right thing — he moved to disarm the gunman, who was still alive and lying on the ground with his AR-15 nearby, according to Boleyn’s attorneys.
Officers saw Hurley from the safety of the substation.
They stayed inside because they worried even the door itself wouldn’t stop a round from an AR-15, according to investigative documents.
Even though Hurley didn’t look anything like the suspect description, they told investigators in an interview later that they couldn’t tell if he was a possibly a second shooter. They had no idea one of their own, Officer Gordon Beesley, had been killed just two minutes earlier.
“That’s the information that Arvada did not want the public to know,” said Siddhartha Rathod, the attorney representing Hurley’s family. “The officers hid while Johnny did what they were trained to do, that the officers refused to go outside. These are three officers with bulletproof vests on, and they refused to open the door and go and engage the shooter.”
For 11 seconds, the officers watched Hurley from behind as he was trying to remove ammunition from the automatic rifle, according to court filings. Without announcing “police” or asking him to drop the weapon, Arvada Officer Kraig Brownlow opened the substation door and took aim at Hurley from behind, hitting him in his back pelvis and killing him.
“If they would’ve simply said, ‘Police,’ Johnny would be here today,” Rathod said.
In an interview in Rathod’s office earlier this month, Hurley’s mother looked at the floor.
“Absolutely,” she said. “That was very much a part of his training. Any announcement, any suggestion to put down your weapon, if they would have said, ‘Police, put down your weapon,’ … he would have dropped it.”
This week is the one-year anniversary of the incident, and Hurley’s family filed a civil rights lawsuit against Brownlow and the Arvada Police Chief Link Strate alleging their actions and the police department’s own policies deprived Hurley of his constitutionally protected rights.
Arvada Mayor Marc Williams said June 21, 2021, was the hardest day of his life as mayor.
“We still mourn the loss of Officer Gordon Beesley and are so thankful for the service of the Arvada Police Department,” he said. “And at the same time we still think about Johnny Hurley. It’s tragic because of the actions of a crazed gunman, we lost two very good men that day.”
Williams said he feels badly for the Hurley family.
“I wish I knew the man,” he said. “He was someone who was willing to step into a very dangerous situation … The tragedy of him picking up the gunman’s rifle will always haunt everyone.”
But Rathod, the family lawyer, said the juxtaposition of Hurley’s actions compared to the officers is stark.
“When Johnny heard the shots, he opened the door and faced the danger,” Rathod said.
The gunman, Ronald Troyke, had a troubled history with the Arvada Police.
After a series of personal problems, he grew increasingly isolated and agitated. And he grew extremely angry at the police, constantly binging on anti-police videos, according to court documents.
Just a couple of weeks before this shooting, he confronted Officer Kraig Brownlow, Sterling Boom and Michael Hall, the three officers who watched him from the substation just days later storm the shopping district with an assault rifle. Troyke called them “terrible people” and “sovereign citizens,” court documents said.
The day of the shooting, Troyke told his sister the police weren’t taking him seriously. His sister called APD and asked for a welfare check. She noted he had a lot of weapons at his disposal. The officer who tried to do that check was Beesley, the officer whom Troyke killed shortly later. Beesley knocked on his door, but Troyke had already taken off for Olde Town.
Mark Wise was the one witness who saw the entire episode as he and a colleague were leaving a restaurant in the town square. When the gunman shot and killed Beesley right in front of Wise, he dove for cover behind parked cars and called 911. He then watched Hurley run toward the gunman, stop, and kill him.
“In that moment when Johnny was running towards me, I didn’t know if he was friend or foe,” Wise said, in a tribute video made by Hurley’s lawyers. “I stayed because something about his presence told me this was going to be OK.”
Boleyn spent a Sunday with Hurley the day before he was killed.
She has weathered a year as a mother living through all of the firsts without her son — the hole at Christmas, a birthday he wasn’t there to celebrate, Mother’s Day.
“When you were having fun with Johnny, there wasn’t anybody else you wanted to be with,” she said. “He just made fun things more fun.”
On what would have been his 41st birthday last August, she went to a horse farm to honor him. Hurley’s sister, Erin, took a group of his friends up camping, an activity the two loved to do together. They brought Hurley’s camping chair and set it up with a photo of him, his floppy camouflage hat and a beer in the cupholder.
“Johnny was a very protective big brother. He always looked out for me, always made sure I was safe, always made sure I felt safe,” she said, in the tribute video. “If I could say one thing to him right now it would be that I love you.”
Hurley was a dilettante who had passions ranging from individual gun rights to cooking to skateboarding to rap music to film. He was a trained chef and picked up catering jobs during the pandemic. He gave away clothes and underwear to homeless people and was known for his gigs drumming in local music establishments. He loved camping. He set up a “hug machine” on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver once and doled out “free” hugs to strangers.
Hurley’s mother said if he wanted to learn something about a subject, he dove in. He went to cooking school and learned how to develop his own recipes when he wanted to learn how to cook. When he became interested in mass shootings and how to help people, he took active shooting training classes.
“He had great compassion for people, and this came out in stories that I heard,” Boleyn said, noting one other time he saved someone’s life who was having trouble swimming in a creek.
His friend Douglas Evans said Hurley was “someone you could take to the revolution or take to your mom’s house.”
When Hurley took active-shooting courses, Boleyn said his instructor cautioned him to use his training wisely.
The instructor told Hurley that he had kids, and he wasn’t sure what decision he would make in a critical moment, fearing for his own family.
“And Johnny said, “Well, I’m not married. I don’t have children,’” Boleyn recalled the instructor telling her.
Boleyn was asleep when federal agents knocked on her door late that Monday night a year ago to tell her that Hurley had been killed. They didn’t give her any details, but they assured her he had done nothing wrong, that he had not broken any laws.
Her daughter, Erin Hurley, had already gotten the knock on the door. She said she crumpled to the ground when representatives from the Jefferson County coroner’s office told her about her brother. She immediately got in the car to drive to Colorado Springs, where Boleyn lives, to be with her mother.
That week was a bit of a blur for Boleyn. She remembers victims’ advocates warning her not to talk to the media and not to watch the news. She didn’t know anything about how Hurley had died. She went to Olde Town Arvada where there was a growing memorial to honor both Hurley and Beesley, the officer who was first gunned down by the shooter.
“People were laying flowers and it kept growing and growing, and I wanted people to know I was his mother,” Boleyn said. “I would just tell people that I was his mother and people were so loving and so beautiful.”
Boleyn and Hurley’s sister had a meeting with officers that Friday, four days after he was killed.
It wasn’t until then she learned police officers killed her son.
“When we learned that it was an officer who shot Johnny, that was confusing and shocking and unbelievable,” Boleyn said. “I was grateful that (Arvada Police) Chief Strate in his public address referred to Johnny as a hero.”
There were discussions between Hurley’s family, their lawyers and the city of Arvada for a year. Ultimately, Rathod said they had to file this suit to get justice for Hurley.
“When you compare the action of the Arvada police to the heroism of Johnny, it is a stark contrast,” he said. “And then when you magnify it with their conscious decision to not announce themselves and to shoot Johnny in the back, when he was unloading the weapon, when he did not match the description of the shooter that they had seen, when he did not pose a threat to anyone, it is just unbelievable. Their conduct is unbelievable.”
Late last year, after reading and analyzing more than 1,000 pages of investigative reports and interviews, Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King made a decision not to press charges against Officer Brownlow, the officer who killed Hurley.
She determined the shooting was justified and that the officer was acting in self-defense or defense of others.
“Though the acts of John Hurley were nothing short of heroic, the facts must be viewed as they appeared to Officer Brownlow at the time,” wrote King in her decision letter on the case. “Officer Brownlow did not know, and could not have known from his vantage point, of the murder of Officer Beesley or of Hurley’s role in eliminating the threat posed by the man in black.”
Arvada Police told reporters after King’s decision they were going to undergo evaluations about what happened. They did that evaluation, a spokesman, Detective Dave Snelling said.
“Our review of all the facts in this tragic incident reveals no policy or procedural violations were made by any Arvada Police Department member in this unprecedented set of circumstances,” Snelling said.
Brownlow resigned from the agency after the incident. He did not return messages seeking comment.
In her residential Colorado Springs neighborhood, Boleyn had a shrine up in her driveway honoring her son all last summer.
She planted fresh flowers and neighbors stopped to pay tribute. She’s going to plant a garden for him in the front this year. She always has a wreath on the door adorned with a black ribbon.
“There is pride that is mixed with the grief,” she said, her voice weakening. “If you have to lose your child … isn’t this the way? I think when I look at his life in how he was and who he was, this really was him. I was the lucky one who got to be his mom.”
She also recently decided to get a vanity plate on her car. It reads: “HROS MOM.”