The head of Colorado’s prison system was shot to death as he answered the doorbell at his home in what police said may have been a targeted slaying linked to his high-profile position.
The shooting on Tuesday night punctuated an intense debate on gun control in Colorado, coming just hours before the state’s Democratic governor signed into law new firearms-control measures spurred by a rash of deadly mass shootings in the state and elsewhere.
Police said Tom Clements, 58, appointed two years ago as executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, was shot at his home in a secluded wooded area near the town of Monument, 72km south of Denver.
The killing did not appear to be linked to any break-in or robbery attempt, and did not appear to be a random act of violence, El Paso County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Jeff Kramer said.
“We are sensitive to the high-profile position in which Mr. Clements served and the fact there could be people who would target him based on his position,” Kramer said in a statement on Wednesday.
Kramer said that according to a 911 emergency call for help received shortly before 9pm, Clements was shot after answering the doorbell. He was found dead by sheriff’s deputies arriving on the scene.
His home sits on a street that is “not a major thoroughfare,” Kramer said. “There’s no reason to turn off onto that road unless you had business there.”
Officials began a search for Clements’ assailant on Tuesday night, but no suspects had been pinpointed, Kramer said.
He said police were investigating the sighting of what was described as an unoccupied, “boxy” two-door sedan idling near the house about 15 minutes before the first 911 call. The same car was reported seen a short time later traveling from the scene with a lone, unidentified occupant, he said.
Police were also looking for a woman, between 35 and 50, who may have been “speed-walking” on Clements’ street about the time of the shooting and was considered a potential witness, Kramer said.
He said some neighbors told police they heard what might have been gunshots in the area at the time.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, visibly shaken by news of the shooting, praised Clements as a “great friend to me” and a dedicated administrator.
At a previously scheduled event later on Wednesday, Hickenlooper signed legislation to extend background checks on gun buyers to private firearms sales. The prospective buyers would pay for the checks. He also signed legislation limiting the size of ammunition magazines that may be sold in the state.
The measures were introduced in the Democratic-controlled state legislature earlier this year and swiftly passed, moving Colorado to the forefront of a national debate over gun violence, which was reignited by several mass shootings last year, included in Newtown, Connecticut, and suburban Denver.