Denver shooting motive under investigation

December 29, 2021
Mourners gather outside the door of a tattoo parlor along South Broadway Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021, in Denver, one of the scenes of a shooting spree that left multiple people dead, including the suspected shooter Monday evening, and a few more people wounded.
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DENVER — Investigators on Wednesday were looking into what motivated a 47-year-old man to go on a deadly shooting rampage through the Denver area Monday, targeting multiple people he knew at and near tattoo parlors, among other locations.

Six people, including the shooter, died in the shootings in Denver and nearby Lakewood, Colorado, authorities said. Two people were injured, including a police officer.

The shooter, who police identified, had “personal” or “business” relationships with nearly all of the victims, Matt Clark, Denver police commander of the Major Crimes Division, said in a joint news conference Tuesday night.

“It does appear that the offender was targeting specific people in this case,” Clark said.

The man had been on law enforcement’s radar, and officers investigated him twice, police said. Asked if the man was acting alone, Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen told reporters the man was no longer a threat to the community.

Tattoo artists Alicia Cardenas, 44, and Danny Schofield, 38, and hotel clerk Sarah Steck, 28, were among the people killed by the shooter. Police did not release the identities of the other two fatal victims or of the police officer and man injured in the shootings. The shooter was killed in a gunfight with police.

During the shooting spree Monday evening, the shooter opened fire at three locations in or near tattoo parlors, according to addresses provided by law enforcement. It was not immediately clear whether the man targeted the hotel clerk; he had “previous interactions with the hotel” but not Steck, specifically, Clark said.

“We will continue to review videos and witness statements and information to shore up timelines, to review the previous investigations, as well as any additional information to try to establish a motive – a motive that was a violent killing spree in the metro area during the holiday season,” Pazen said.

Here’s what we know:

What happened in the ‘complex series of incidents’?

The “complex series of incidents” started after 5 p.m. Monday in Denver, Clark said.

The man fatally shot two women and wounded a man inside Sol Tribe Tattoo & Piercing, Clark said. Officers responded to a 911 call about the shooting and discovered the two women inside the shop and the wounded man nearby, Clark said. He was taken to a hospital in critical condition and is expected to survive, Clark said.

Minutes later, at an address at or near another tattoo parlor, World Tattoo Studio, the man shot at people inside a hybrid residence-business, but no one was injured, Clark said. The man then set a van on fire in the alley behind the business, Clark said.

Police received a call about the shooting, then another minutes later, after the shooter fatally shot a man near a residence, Clark said. Officers located the man minutes later and exchanged gunfire, but the man disabled the officers’ car and took off onto the highway, Clark said.

The man drove to Lakewood, Colorado, and fatally shot Danny Schofield inside the Lucky 13 Tattoo Parlor, Lakewood Police spokesman John Romero said.

Surveillance video provided by a nearby business owner to USA TODAY and taken Monday night shows a dark-colored van pulling up outside Lucky 13. A man who appeared to be carrying a firearm steps out of the van, leaving the door open and the engine apparently running and walks calmly into the tattoo shop. He walks out 10 seconds later, climbs into the van and drives away.

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Romero said Lakewood police agents later found the man’s vehicle near or at a Wells Fargo, and the man and officers exchanged fire before the man fled. The man then entered a nearby restaurant, where he threatened people with a gun but did not fire any shots or injure anyone, Romero said.

The man went around the corner to the nearby Hyatt House, walked inside, had a “brief conversation” with the front desk worker, Sarah Steck, and shot her several times, Romero said.

Less than two minutes later, the man was walking through a shopping center when he encountered a Lakewood police agent, who was alone. The man shot the officer in the abdomen, and she fatally shot the man, Romero said.

“I can’t overemphasize enough the heroic actions of our Lakewood police agent. In the face of being shot, in the face of danger, she was able to not only save others from this terrible tragedy but also neutralize the threat,” Romero said.

Who were Alicia Cardenas, Danny Schofield and Sarah Steck?

Alicia Cardenas, one of the victims, was a tattooer, mural artist and cultural anthropologist who owned Sol Tribe Tattoo & Piercing, according to the shop’s website. The website describes Cardenas as a “true Denver Native” and a “proud Indigenous artist.”

Cardenas’ father, Alfredo Cardenas, went to his daughter’s tattoo shop Tuesday and lit a candle to remember her life. He told USA TODAY he was in “shock.”

Schofield, another victim, was a tattoo artist and Colorado native, according to the Lucky 13 Tattoo and Piercing website. He had been tattooing for about 15 years, according to the site. He was also known as Dano Blair.

Schofield leaves behind three young children, friend Annie Bagford said, showing off her tattoos he’d crafted over the years. “I’m just so angry,” Bagford said. “Danny never did wrong to anybody. He didn’t deserve to be shot. It makes no sense. It’s just just so unfair to his kids, to his family.”

Steck, who worked at the Hyatt, was taken to the hospital Monday and died from her injuries Tuesday, police said.

The injured officer was a three-year veteran of the department, Romero said. She underwent surgery and will need more surgeries but is in stable condition, he said. The officer’s family was traveling to Colorado, and her identity would be made public later, Romero said.

Who was the shooter?

Authorities identified the gunman as Lyndon James McLeod, 47. They have not announced the shooter’s motive but said he had some connection to all of his victims.

Officers investigated the man twice from mid-2020 and early 2021. Pazen said neither investigation resulted in criminal charges, and would not give further details about those incidents.

“This is not an unknown party to us,” Pazen said.

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World Tattoo Studio owner Ian Lütz said he had never heard of McLeod before he was identified by police. According to Colorado state business records, he was the owner of Flat Black Ink, a Denver business that opened in 2005, was declared delinquent in 2017 and was listed as having a name change in 2018.

World Tattoo now operates at the same Denver address that was listed for Flat Black Ink.

“Yeah, I have no prior knowledge of really the history of the shop before my owning it. I know that Alicia owned it and it was sort of a secondary Sol Tribe,” Lütz told USA TODAY. “That’s about all I know about the history of it. I’ve had the shop for about four-and-a-half years now.”

This was the 13th mass shooting in Colorado this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks gun violence nationally using a combination of police statistics and media reports. The archive defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot, not including the shooter, at the same general time and location.

Contributing: Bill Keveney, USA TODAY

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