The gunman, identified as Joshua Cummings, 37, of Texas, was captured about a half an hour later just minutes from the scene. Scott Van Lanken succumbed to his injuries while being transported to the hospital.
According to the Denver Post, Scott Van Lanken, 56, was giving directions to two women who had just left a nightclub when Cummings approached from behind and shot him in the back of the neck. Van Lanken was armed at the time of the ambush and wearing a uniform similar to a Denver police officer. All initial reports indicate that the shooting was a complete unprovoked ambush and it appears that Cummings was trying to murder a police officer.
An alert immediately went out to all law enforcement in the area because of what appeared to be a targeted attack. Denver Police Commander Barb Archer said that according to witnesses, the gunman approached from behind and said something to the effect of, “Do as I tell you,” before firing. One of the women also described the shooter having had “a swollen face and different/weird-looking eyes.”
Denver police responded within minutes and quickly gathered video evidence from the scene. They captured Cummings about a half an hour later in the 1600 block of 14th St. after he surrendered. On his person they found a bag containing Muslim jihadist documents, according to police. They also found a 9mm handgun with an eight round magazine capacity, loaded with 7 rounds, and one in the chamber.
According to CBS, Cummings was the owner of a Jiu-Jitsu academy in Texas. The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that he enlisted in the army in July of 1997 as an infantryman. He served until 2003 reaching the rank of sergeant. Since then he had attended college off and on, worked for a nightclub and did private security. Recently he had been fired for assaulting a bouncer at a nightclub where he worked and later returned to tell them he was leaving for Denver. The FBI had flagged Cummings according to records for a previous incident at a mosque. Cummings’s Facebook showed posted expressing hatred for law enforcement.
Scott Van Lanken originally moved to Loveland in 2002 to continue his work in ministry. In between churches and struggling to put food on the table, Van Lanken worked as much as possible to provide for his family. His sister-in-law Sandy Ritter said that Shellie called her around 3 AM to tell her the news. Heartbroken and worried about how to move forward and with only “40-cents in her wallet and no groceries,” she said, the bread winner for their family was taken from them.
Scott Van Lanken had served the citizens of La Crosse Wisconsin as a police officer from 1978-1987. In 1988 he left law enforcement and became a Pastor and served in Ohio, Arizona and Colorado over a 26-year period. His bride of 35 years, Shellie, said Scott had taken a break from pastoring to earn money for her and their twin adult daughters, one of whom is disabled. He had been working around 65 hours a week Shellie said to support their family. “It was unbelievable that any human being could even work what he was working,” she said, calling his stress tremendous. “He just worked his heart out. He would tell me, ‘If I could keep working, I would get another job just so I could provide for my family.’”
His love for police work and his love for serving people went hand in hand she said. “He always had a connection with being a police officer and pastor because he had such a heart to help people. When he was a pastor he would help people, but he felt like when he was a police officer, or security officer, he always felt like he could really help people,” Shellie said.
Through their devastation she reminded all of those watching how her husband, a believer in forgiveness would want his shooter to be treated. “I know very well, my husband, if he was here right now, he would tell us, and tell his daughters to forgive this man,” she said.
The Denver Police, RTD Police and other responding agencies have all been shaken by the cowardly act. “It’s affecting everybody, even though he wasn’t a police officer,” RTD police Chief John Tarbert said.
A memorial fund has been established with the Rocky Mountain Law Enforcement Credit Union for the Van Lanken family. Donations can be made by calling (303) 458-6660 or you can view the Credit Union website here.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Van Lanken family, including his church family. There are not always answers when God calls one of his beloved home. We hope for swift justice for the coward responsible.