Community responds to shootings

BY HENRY BRIER | RIFLE, CO | July 17, 2001

"I feel the Anglo people showed the Hispanic people a lot of support."

—Saul Flores

Community members in a western Colorado

county are working hard to cope with the fatal shootings of four

Hispanic residents and the wounding of three others.

Fund raising, community dialogue, innovative radio programming and a

march highlighted by civic leaders denouncing the alleged gunman's

actions were among the activities that immediately ensued after the

shootings earlier this month in Rifle, according to Lindsay Neil,

program coordinator for a non-profit Hispanic social services

organization in Garfield County.

"The community has really stepped up," she said.

"We pray it doesn't happen again," said Saul Flores, pastor of the

Seventh-day Adventist Hispanic church. "I feel the Anglo people

showed the Hispanic people a lot of support. Now the feeling is still

there, but the Hispanic people feel like we have to move on."

Police said that late in the evening of July 3, Steven Michael

Stagner, 42, walked through a supermarket parking lot near a trailer

park and opened fire. Those killed were two brothers in their early

20s, one man in his 40s, and a 19-year-old woman, Flores said.

Stagner, who was charged Monday with first-degree murder, is white.

His victims were all Hispanic. Authorities said, however, they did

not plan to charge Stagner under Colorado's ethnic intimidation law.

He was being held without bond in the Garfield County Jail.

"It was a terrible tragedy for this community," said Dave Bottroff,

pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. "The hearts of all people

in the community go out to these families. There is a desire to help

them survive this tragedy."

About 7,300 people, or 17 percent, of Garfield County's residents are

Hispanic, said Neil, whose employer, "Asistencia para Latinos" (Help

for Latinos), provides humanitarian aid for various services. She

based the statistics on information from a census count in 2000.

Fund raising helped pay for funeral costs, including the

transportation and burial of the victims in Mexico. Donations also

provided compensation for missed work and victims' rights services,

officials said.

"The community was very supportive of the families of the victims and

of the injured people," Flores said. "They showed a lot of support

to these people."

Because of the donations, family members of the victims will be able

to observe the criminal proceedings, Neil said. Stagner's next

scheduled court appearance is Aug. 16.

On the Sunday following the shootings, there was a special walk for

peace from a local elementary school to a park in Rifle, a community

about 200 miles west of Denver. An estimated 3,000 people

participated, Flores said.

He said Colorado's governor, state representatives and the Mexican

consulate addressed the crowd at the end of the march.

"All the community was there," Flores said. "The governor apologized

and said Colorado people are warm people, friendly people. He said he

welcomes the Hispanic population."

Community members stressed that the shooting was an isolated incident

undertaken by one person acting on his own.

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