We were on our way to Grand Junction on Friday and stopped for lunch at the Belly Restaurant on Main Street in Montrose – a perfect vantage point for the somber procession of hundreds of law enforcement and public safety officers from all across Colorado and beyond, memorializing the life and mourning the death of Montrose police officer Dave Kinterknecht, who was killed in the line of duty the previous Saturday, July 25.
What a staggering, unexpectedly solemn event it was.
As Beverly Corbell reported in The Watch, Kinterknecht grew up in Montrose and graduated from Montrose High School, and worked at the Telluride Marshal’s Department and then for the San Miguel County Sheriff, before landing his dream job with the Montrose Police Department, where he worked for the last ten years. Kinterknecht’s roots in the region were deep, but that doesn’t fully explain the depth of emotion surrounding his death.
The fact that he died in the line of duty surely has much more to do with it. Even in civilian life, many people work in occupations where they are expected to risk their lives, not necessarily routinely, but at a moment’s notice. They include police, firefighters and, sometimes, medical workers. Lethal incidents are rare enough that we may become blasé about what they do, until one of them – in our own backyard – pays the ultimate price. Then it suddenly hits us that any of these heroes-in-waiting might answer a 911 call that turns ugly fast.
That’s exactly what happened to Kinterknecht. He was ambushed, along with two other police officers, both of whom sustained serious injuries, by a man who may have been attempting “suicide by cop.” The killer, Dennis Gurney, 52, shot and killed himself after a half-hour confrontation in his garage with the officers who responded to a call from Gurney’s wife. In a state of despair, Gurney had threatened her and she felt her own life was at risk.
Gurney makes an astonishingly poignant villain. He himself was once a hero. At the age of 23, he was working on an oilrig when a pipe he was working on ignited. Instead of running, he struggled to secure the pipe in order to protect his co-workers. He suffered devastating burns over 75 percent of his body. As reported in The Denver Post, over the next 15 years, he underwent more than 40 painful surgeries, subsequently becoming addicted to alcohol and prescription painkillers. He and his family relocated to Montrose from Texas 20 years ago because a doctor told him he would do better in a drier climate, having lost most of his sweat glands.
All this proves is that life can be tragically cruel, driving some men and women to violence, not all of them bearing scars as visible as Dennis Gurney’s. When someone snaps and someone else dials 911, a cop comes to the rescue. Sometimes the cop is killed. And that’s what Friday’s memorial service was about: the ineffable sorrow that life sometimes drops on us.
In Montrose on Friday, all normal traffic stopped. The funeral procession was led by police officers on motorcycles, followed by an antique fire engine carrying the casket, and friends and family in black limousines. Then a parade of police cars from all over the state, and beyond, from Denver and Santa Fe, Cheyenne and Aurora, Telluride, Ouray and Ridgway, towns, cities and counties; there were numerous fire departments represented, and federal park service and forest service rangers: all with their emergency lights flashing. The procession was miles long and it took over 45 minutes to pass.
All along Townsend and Main streets, hundreds of people stood and watched. Many were crying. Apart from the dignity of the uniformed officers, the colorful decals on all of the official vehicles, and the flashing red and blue emergency lights, one’s strongest impression was of a city fallen into silence.