Could a senseless tragedy have been prevented?
Somewhere around 7:30 p.m. on that night last November, Richard Moreau clenched the handle of his .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun and walked into the Sandbar Sports Grill. Short and burly, the 63-year-old had a crazed look in his deep-set eyes, an unkempt gray beard, and three nickel-sized snowflakes tattooed on his left cheek.
Jim Lindley happened to be standing in Moreau’s line of sight. Wrong place, wrong time. Just like everyone else in the bar. It didn’t seem like it at that moment, but Lindley was lucky—lucky Moreau wasn’t holding one of his rifles, or his 12-gauge, semiautomatic sawed-off shotgun, or one of his 19 swords. Moreau fired two rounds at Lindley; one of the shots shattered his left elbow. Moreau paused to reload.
The lull was just long enough for Lindley to wonder why a man he’d never met was shooting at him. Another minute and Lindley wouldn’t have been there. Done with his taco and Sierra Nevada, he had dropped money on the bar and was headed home to pack for a California trip to see family. Moreau fired two more rounds. Lindley’s knees buckled and his body smacked the sticky bar floor. Moreau moved passed Lindley, deeper into the bar.
Outside, about the length of a football field away from the bar, a woman stood in the West Vail Mall parking lot adjacent to a McDonald’s, gasping at the mountain air. She’d just watched a Sandbar staffer get shot. She was the first to dial 911.
“Um. I. Someone’s shooting at the Sandbar.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I said a guy is shooting in the Sandbar.”
“There’s an actual gun?”
“Yes, an actual gun.”
No one could have faulted the dispatcher for double-checking the report of an actual gun. After all, this was Vail—the ski-resort town where there’s not much crime, let alone shooting sprees.
“We need an ambulance and the cops,” the woman shouted into the phone. “Now!”
Moreau had made his way to a corner of the bar. He sat on the ground next to a table near the kitchen. His back pressed against a wall and his feet spread in front of him in the shape of a ‘V.’ His shoulders drooped. His right arm was outstretched, parallel with the ground, and his fingers were still wrapped around his handgun. He looked like a man who was at once defeated and defiant; resigned to whatever had happened and to whatever may come next.
Gary Kitching, an adventurous and fit 70-year-old, wandered around the corner of the bar directly opposite Moreau. Wrong place, wrong time. Kitching was likely looking for his wife, Lani, who was hiding behind a nearby coffee table and couch. If only the couple had opted to watch the University of Southern California football game at home in Carbondale.
Moreau aimed at Kitching and pulled the trigger without any visible hesitation. The former Navy lieutenant crumpled. Moreau pointed his gun at the motionless Kitching and fired twice more. Three shots in all: arm, thigh, chest. From his seated position, Moreau slid down along the wall until he was lying on the ground, only a few feet from where Kitching was bleeding, dying.
The woman in the parking lot had called 911 at 7:28 p.m. Twenty-nine minutes later, Lt. Greg Daly of the Avon Police Department found Moreau in the corner of the bar. Daly turned his handgun on Moreau and ordered him to drop his weapon. Moreau asked Daly to “go ahead and shoot me.” Daly wrestled Moreau’s gun from his hand and cuffed him. Vail Police officer Ryan Millbern got to Moreau shortly after Daly. Millbern recognized the shooter. Millbern knew him as many folks around town knew him, by his nickname: Rossi. He’d also seen Moreau’s name around the Vail Police Department—on a list of locals to watch. When Millbern reached him, Moreau was babbling and blurted: “Do you know how long I’ve been trying not to do this?”
Moreau’s Yosemite Sam–style mustache fluttered below his chin as he cut turns down Vail Mountain. A pack of kids, between the ages of six and 15, followed him. The kids called themselves the Flying Purple People Eaters. It was the 1970s, and they were an advanced racing and freeskiing class and Moreau was their coach. Moreau was in his 20s. At 5 feet 6 inches tall, his tree trunk–thick quads could handle skis made for a 6-footer. Snapped into his banana-yellow boots, Moreau owned the mountain as he and his crew maneuvered the Back Bowls. His tight blue ski pants with red stripes down each leg would pop in and out of the trees. “He was pretty cool,” says Berne Krueger, once a member of the Flying Purple People Eaters. “He was fun and a very good skier.”
Growing up in New Hampshire, Moreau’s father had taught him to ski at an early age on the more-frigid and icier slopes of Attitash and Wildcat. Knowing how to hold an edge while snapping a tight turn on the glacial New Hampshire hills made skiing Vail powder seem like a dream. A dream Moreau lived every day he could after he moved to Vail in 1970. He skied Vail Mountain more than 100 days a season—a feat achieved only by ski patrollers and dedicated locals. (By way of comparison, Vail plans to open for 156 days during the 2010–2011 season.)
When he wasn’t teaching Vail’s young daredevils, Moreau would hot-dog it alone. He’d fly down International or Riva Ridge. Speed was his thing. Olympic gold medalist Stein Eriksen, Colorado Buffs’ great Jimmie Heuga, legendary ski-filmmaker Warren Miller: As far as Moreau’s longtime buddy Michael Garneau was concerned, Moreau was better than them all. Even Moreau’s nickname was about skiing. Rossi was short for Rossignol, the premiere ski brand. On the slopes, Moreau was in control. Off the hill, he was a mess.
Inside his small, cluttered Vail apartment, his mind would routinely wipe out. If it weren’t for his cats—whom he referred to as his kids—Moreau might have stayed in bed all day. He popped handfuls of pills daily to fight anxiety and depression. Sometimes the drugs eased his mind. At least twice, however, he grabbed one of his guns, pointed it at himself, and called his friend Garneau in New Hampshire.
Through the receiver, two nights in the late 1970s, Garneau heard Moreau cocking a .45 caliber handgun. Garneau knew the sound well. The noise of a .45 slide moving forward, locking a round in the chamber. Moreau said things like: I’m fucking done, man. I’m gonna do myself tonight. I’m gonna eat this .45. The back of my head is going to be all over the place. Concerned about his friend, Garneau says, he called emergency both times. He told the dispatcher about his troubled friend, said Moreau might snap. From so far away, Garneau says, he felt there wasn’t more he could do. He loved Moreau. Friends since childhood, they’d been through a lot together, including Vietnam.
Welcome to Vail, 8,150 feet: The blue sign with white lettering marks the eastern edge of the Vail Valley, or, depending on which local you ask, the Eagle Valley. Locals consider the 43 miles between Vail Pass and Dotsero a wonderful and most unusual community both bound and awkwardly divided by county lines, the slithering interstate, by the seasons and by class.
I-70 lopsidedly dissects Vail. On the south side of the highway is the village, with its contemporary cobblestone streets, the ski hill, chairlifts, pointy-roofed condos, $40-a-plate-restaurants, pricey boutiques, and gear shops. In the center of the village, near the covered pedestrian bridge, is a towering statue of a 10th Mountain Division soldier, a monument to Vail’s rugged, militaristic roots.
The highway, the condos, the tony retail—when Peter Seibert, a World War II veteran, and Earl Eaton, a Colorado miner, first hiked Vail Mountain in 1957, none of it existed. But the two friends could see it all in their minds’ eye. They envisioned Vail as the perfect place for a ski resort. They raised $1 million selling condos and lifetime ski passes for 10 grand a pop. Construction of a gondola, two lifts, and condos started in the summer of 1962. The hill opened the following December. Four years later, in ’66, Vail incorporated.
Both the ski hill and the town quickly garnered international recognition. The success, or at least part of it, owed to the area’s military history. Camp Hale is located about 20 miles south of Vail. Hale was formed during World War II in order to train 10th Mountain Division troops to fight in an alpine environment. It was while Seibert trained at Camp Hale that he began to see all the area had to offer. He made his way back to Colorado after the war, spent time on the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol and managing the Loveland Basin Ski Area before he and Eaton launched their little resort project.
Ever since, during Vail’s 44-year history, violent crime has been rare. The night of the Sandbar shooting, Vail police chief Dwight Henninger said, “This is a very safe community. Other than a few shoving matches once in a while, we’re a very safe place. So it’s a real strike to the community, a real blow to us.”
Before that night, the town’s last homicide had been in December 1979. James Heintze moved to Vail after meeting Steve Kirby in Denver. Kirby paid Heintze for sex while visiting the Mile High City and persuaded the jobless guy with a drug problem to move to the mountains with him. Two weeks later, the two started fighting. Heintze beat Kirby to death with a claw hammer. He turned himself in three days after killing his 28-year-old roommate. Convicted of second-degree murder, Heintze was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Start to finish, meeting to murder, it all happened in a matter of weeks. Before that murder it doesn’t appear that Heintze had been on the Vail police radar. Three decades later, Moreau was a different story.
On the inside of his right leg, Moreau has a tattoo of the Purple Heart Medal. He was awarded the real thing. It was one of the many military honors and commendations he received. Moreau followed in his father’s footsteps when, at age 19, he started active duty in the United States Army. His father, Bernard, served during World War II as a member of the 172nd Field Artillery. The old man was in the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
The United States had been entangled in Vietnam for years when Bernard’s boy, Richard, left Manchester, New Hampshire, in the fall of 1965 bound for Fort Dix in New Jersey, then Fort Gordon in Georgia. He was trained, according to records provided by the National Personnel Records Center, as a radio teletype operator and a door gunner. He was assigned to the 371st Radio Research Company of the 1st Cavalry Division. He also served with the 319th Army Security Agency Battalion. Moreau spent six years in the army: four on active duty and two in reserve. After he got out, he told people he had been in the shit, an Army Ranger who traversed the ground spying on the enemy—classified Special Forces stuff. He told war stories. There’s one about him holding a dying friend in his arms during combat. Another about being wounded during the Tet Offensive.
Since the Sandbar shooting, veterans have questioned Moreau’s claims about his military background. His name landed on a list of military “Phonies and Wannabes” compiled by the POW Network website—a nonprofit group that verifies military records. According to POW founding board member Mary Schantag, Moreau was not an Army Ranger. He did not attend Ranger school, or graduate from Recondo school, or receive Special Forces training. Moreau’s old pal, Garneau, who served with Moreau in Vietnam, acknowledges his friend often exaggerated, but Garneau shrugs off the idea that the POW findings undermine all of what Moreau claimed to have done. “Not everything that happened in ’Nam,” Garneau says, “got written down.”
This much is certain about Moreau’s military service, according to the National Personnel Records Center files: He was highly decorated. He finished his active duty on November 5, 1969, as a corporal with multiple awards and commendations. Moreau received an Army Commendation Medal; a Purple Heart Medal; a Meritorious Unit Commendation; a Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation; an Air Medal; a Vietnam Service Medal, with one Silver Service Star and one Bronze Service Star; and a Presidential Unit Citation.
His Gallantry Cross would have required him to have “accomplished deeds of valor or displayed heroic conduct while fighting an enemy force.” To earn his Air Medal, Moreau would have “distinguished himself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.” The general’s orders for the Meritorious Unit Commendation, specific to Moreau’s battalion’s actions, in part, read: “The members of this unit demonstrated extraordinary diligence, tenacity, and consummate skill in providing unexcelled communications intelligence and communications security support to the I Field Force Vietnam and its subordinate combat elements. Despite adverse environmental and hostile conditions, the battalion participated in every major operation in its area of responsibility and consistently provided factual and timely special intelligence information.”
There is also no doubt that Vietnam changed Moreau. “He was a nice kid when he went to Vietnam,” Moreau’s aunt, Pearl Legere, says, adding that after the war, “everything went haywire.” Moreau would call his aunt in New Hampshire and not make sense. He called once to say he was close to buying a house but was $100 short. He wondered if he could borrow the money. Another time he said he was about to hop on a plane and head to Iraq as a consultant. “It was hard for us,” Legere says. “Ricky was a good kid.”
On the outside of his left calf, Moreau has another tattoo; this one of a skier in a tuck position and “KEEP UP!”. The stacked Vs of the Vail logo are just above the skier. Above that: “1970 — FOREVER...” A ski race first drew Moreau to Vail. He fell in love with the outdoor recreation. Skiing in the winter; in the summer: mountain biking, fly-fishing, hiking, camping, and archery.
When he wasn’t casting his fly rod in Gore Creek or camping or skiing, he would sometimes lend a hand around town. John Gulick met Moreau in the ’70s when both were fire department volunteers. Gulick noticed Moreau was quick to shake your hand or even offer up a hug. By the ’80s, as Gulick earned the title of training officer, Moreau’s interest in the department waned. Still, Gulick, who would put in 31 years with the Vail Fire Department and eventually became chief, saw enough of Moreau to know, as he puts it, that Moreau was “a good hand” who enjoyed being part of a team and valued respect.
Moreau told Gulick that nothing made Moreau’s father more proud than seeing his son in a uniform. And so Gulick gave Moreau a T-shirt with the Vail Fire Department logo. Gulick tried to get Moreau to volunteer again. Some days Moreau would show up eager to help. He enjoyed joking with the guys. Other times, Moreau would pop in reeking of booze. Gulick made a point of telling Moreau if he’d been drinking or smoking dope not to bother coming in. Sometimes Moreau didn’t show up at all. Gulick knew Moreau was on medication. He watched Moreau pop pills morning and night. He never trusted Moreau with any more responsibility than a mop and bucket. Gulick didn’t consider himself a close friend of Moreau’s, but always treated Moreau with respect and dignity. “Some of the younger guys didn’t like him. They thought he was a little weird,” Gulick says. “People could sense there was something wrong with him.” But Gulick’s approach was: “Let’s be kind to him. He had a rough go.”
The gaps between when Gulick would see Moreau grew—days, weeks. Out of the blue, Gulick would get a call from the veteran. He’d be upset about one of his cats dying or about having trouble with a girl and needed someone to talk to. They’d talk for 20 minutes. It might be months before Gulick would hear from or see Moreau again. He always thought Moreau would have to move from Vail; he figured Moreau simply couldn’t afford the cost of living.
Vail indeed has become every bit the resort town Siebert, the 10th Mountain Division veteran, had envisioned. So much so that it’s no place for man to live on a veteran’s pension or disability benefits. Affordable housing is difficult to find. A gallon of gas is 40 cents cheaper just outside Vail, in the next county. During the ski season Vail is bustling if not chaotic, filled with wealthy out-of-towners. For years, the valley’s second-homeowners have outnumbered the year-round residents. Then, in the shoulder seasons, it’s horror-movie quiet. “It’s kind of a tough place,” Gulick says.
Berne Krueger, who grew up in Vail and as a kid skied with Moreau as one of the Flying Purple People Eaters, rarely goes to the town anymore. He left the valley in 1980 and spent 22 years with the Marine Corps. When he returned to the area, he moved down valley, around what he considers the more family-oriented towns like Gypsum and Eagle. “The people I work with and recreate with all live down valley,” Krueger says. He didn’t see Moreau much, if at all, since those early years on the mountain. Referring to his old coach, Kreuger adds, “I don’t think Vail’s an easy place to be if you have any mental problems.”
It wasn’t long after Moreau arrived in Vail that he made himself known to the Vail PD. In 1976, according to records obtained from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Moreau was arrested for driving drunk. In 1980, Moreau was busted for something more ornery: The Boulder police arrested him for trespassing and “resisting an officer.” Months later, Eagle County police nabbed him for driving drunk, again. A few years later, according to the CBI reports, Eagle County police bagged Moreau for possession of “dangerous drugs.”
In the ’90s, Moreau got in more trouble. He was arrested four times. In 1992, it was for larceny and check fraud. Next, in March 1995, Moreau’s behavior became more openly hostile. Moreau walked into Garfinkel’s, a Vail bar, with a “cowboy-type” hat on his head and, according to a police report of the night, a Smith & Wesson 9 mm handgun between his waistband and lower back. There was a round in the chamber and 15 rounds in a magazine.
Moreau spotted what he thought was a plain-clothes cop in the bar. Matt Miller was actually a Garfs part-time employee who had the night off. Moreau approached Miller and asked if he was a cop. Miller figured he’d play along, indicating to Moreau that yeah, I’m a cop. According to a police report, Moreau slid his hand around his own back and advised Miller to not do anything stupid. Moreau’s tone and movement conveyed to Miller, and a few nearby patrons, that Moreau was reaching for a gun. Miller quickly abandoned the act, and Moreau backed off. The door manager called the police. When the cops arrived and found Moreau near the pool tables in the back of the restaurant, he fessed up to having a gun. Even though he didn’t have a conceal-and-carry permit, he said, it was his constitutional right to carry a firearm. The police told him it wasn’t necessary for him to be armed and what’s more, that it was illegal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Moreau said he was probably going to keep carrying anyway. He pleaded guilty to the concealed weapon charge.
The very next year, Moreau was arrested, again, for larceny. Two years later it was guns—again. And this time a Vail police officer responded to a report of “shots fired.” Officer Brad Baldwin wrote in his report of that September 1998 night, that as he sped toward the Hamlet condos, Moreau’s name popped into his head. The cop, as he noted in his report, knew Moreau lived at the condos and liked to carry a weapon; he and others in the department had responded to calls there specific to Moreau.
Sure enough, there was Moreau in a jean jacket and blue jeans sitting on the front steps of Unit 17 with a .45 in his right hand and ammunition in his right breast pocket: He had a magazine with at least five rounds. Moreau fought and cursed officers as they took him into custody. A woman who watched the incident told police she’d often hear Moreau shrieking in the middle of the night. The woman told police that she even bought a fan to drown out the sounds.
On the ride to the station, according to Baldwin’s report, he could smell the booze on Moreau’s breath. Moreau slurred sentences about ’Nam and how he was a disabled veteran. At the Vail PD, Moreau told Baldwin there was no reason for the neighbors to be scared because he loads his bullet shells himself, doesn’t use very much gunpowder. Moreau said he was 100 percent disabled from Vietnam, and had every right to carry a gun and fire it.
Moreau was charged with reckless endangerment, prohibited use of a weapon, and two counts of obstructing a peace officer. He pleaded guilty to the weapons charge. The other charges were dismissed. As part of that November 1998 sentence, Moreau’s probation prohibited him from possessing a firearm for a year. A week after he was arrested, Moreau called Baldwin to apologize. According to a report Baldwin filed, Moreau told Baldwin he was sorry. Moreau said he screwed up. He said his life was a mess.
Moreau’s need for guns began after returning from Vietnam. He told Garneau he collected arms and ammunition because “whatever happens, I’ll be ready for it.” The night he was arrested in ’95 at Garfs Moreau informed police that he’d been carrying a gun since he got out of the military in ’69. “Even back then he said, ‘Nobody understands me,’” Garneau says. “He always felt different than everyone else.” In fact, Moreau felt unwell, unbalanced. According to Garneau and a psychologist, Darlene Hoffman, who treated Moreau, he began experiencing Vietnam flashbacks and other symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder as early as 1979.
Sometime between 1981 and 1994, according to Hoffman, Moreau traveled to the VA Medical Center in Grand Junction about once every six months. The closest VA medical center to Vail, it is 148-mile drive. More than 40,000 veterans from 17-and-a-half counties and three states are under the Grand Junction facility’s area of care. (Last year, it served about 12,000 veterans.) Because Moreau faces a pending criminal trial, a spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs says, the VA cannot release information about Moreau.
In addition to traveling to the Grand Junction VA facility, Moreau sought treatment from psychologist Hoffman, who also lived in the Vail area. According to Hoffman, a mutual friend told her about Moreau, saying, “I know this friend who is really F’d up. He’s the best skier in the Valley.’” And Hoffman adds, “Skiing was what I wanted to do.” She says she took on Moreau as a client at her business, called “Psychotherapy,” in 1996. The two struck a barter system: 50 minutes of ski lessons in return for 50 minutes of therapy. That professional exchange lasted for seven or eight months until, Hoffman says, Moreau stopped making appointments and “phased out. We were friends after that.”
Vail PD was under the impression that Hoffman and Moreau were more than friends. In two Vail police reports, two detectives refer to Hoffman as Moreau’s “girlfriend.” In one of those reports, May 2, 2000, detective Jay Ferguson wrote that “Moreau and his girlfriend, Darlene Hoffman, came into the Vail police department at my request.” In several other Vail PD reports, detectives note that in the wake of the November 1998 sentence stemming from the Hamlet condo incident, which prohibited Moreau from possessing firearms for a year, it was Hoffman who took possession of and stored his guns in her office. In a November 17, 1999 report, a detective Trindle wrote: “I asked Hoffman if she still had Moreau’s two handguns. Hoffman told me she still had the guns. Hoffman says the guns were in her office.”
Hoffman says those police reports that depict her as Moreau’s girlfriend and as the custodian of his firearms are inaccurate. She says that although Moreau “had a major crush on me for years,” they were nothing more than friends, and that she “never stored guns.” As Hoffman puts it, “a long time ago I befriended a Vietnam vet” and that in the wake of the Sandbar shooting her reputation is being “damaged on account of being a good person.” Garneau says Hoffman was closer to Moreau than anyone else in the valley and she was one of the few people who could help his friend.
Apparently, Moreau needed more assistance than he was getting. A little more than a year after the report of shots fired at the Hamlet, Carmen Johnston walked into the bedroom of her cousin’s Lion’s Mane condo in Vail and saw the mirror above the bed was shattered. She spotted a divot in the wall directly opposite the bed. It looked, to Johnston, like a bullet hole. A Vail officer determined Johnston was right—a bullet shot through the wall behind the mirror in her cousin’s bedroom, shattered the glass, bounced off the sheetrock, and landed on a small table across from the bed. The bullet looked like it came from next door. The police checked who was living in the neighboring apartment: Moreau.
Moreau told police he didn’t have anything to do with the shooting. He said an old friend was visiting and accidentally fired the bullet. The cops couldn’t get in touch with Moreau’s friend. One of Moreau’s neighbors told police she saw Moreau a month earlier with four guns. The head of the condo association, too, told police about problems with Moreau: Moreau was pissed off one night at a dinner party for new residents. He overheard a doctor tell someone they couldn’t learn to ski because of a bum knee. Moreau offered to teach the guy and, the condo representative told police, Moreau threatened to kill the doctor.
Moreau permitted police to search his apartment. They found thousands of rounds of ammunition. No guns, though. Still, there was enough evidence to charge Moreau with illegal discharge of a firearm and criminal mischief. He pleaded guilty to both charges in 2001. According to news reports, Moreau “received a deferred sentence” on the felony charge. Part of his sentence was probation—and this time he was prohibited from possessing a firearm for four years.
In 2002, about a year into Moreau’s probation, he walked into the La Cantina restaurant inside the Vail Village Transportation Center. According to a Vail PD report, he ordered two chicken enchiladas and a Mexican martini, and caused quite a scene. A waiter overheard Moreau “yelling” at four people sitting at the table next to him. Moreau called them terrorists and threatened to kill them. The waiter escorted him out of the restaurant. One of the four people Moreau threatened heard him say he had a .45 in his bag. The police were called and found Moreau soon after on a local bus. No guns, though. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Back at the station, he registered a 0.258 blood alcohol level, more than three times the legal limit.
Moreau had already lost his mother and brother, and in 2005, Moreau’s father—a man he raved about and tried hard to impress—was dying. He didn’t make the trip to New Hampshire to see his dad on his death bed. “That’s all his dad kept saying is that he wanted to see Ricky,” Moreau’s Aunt Legere says. “That’s all his father wanted, was to see him.”
Two years after his dad died, in August 2007, Moreau swayed in a metal rocking chair outside his apartment while he spoke to a Vail Daily reporter about the valley’s housing problem. It was a video report that would find its way to YouTube. Moreau has a dark green military style hat pulled tight. Sunglasses dangle from his neck and rest in the middle of his chest against his green Under Armor T-shirt. The shirt is tucked into camouflage cargo shorts. His graying Yosemite Sam-style mustache is long, unkempt, straying beyond the boundaries of his jaw. His eyes dart about wildly.
He begins a virtually uninterrupted soliloquy that starts out about housing, but becomes something else: “I’ve got post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m 100 percent disabled from Vietnam.…I’m very, very frustrated. I’ve given 100 percent to this town. I coached here. I did some really good things.” He mentions how proud he is of the kids he coached. He says he’s proud of helping the Vietnam veterans participate in parades. He talks about putting together a support-the-troops rally. “I’ve given everything I can to this town. I’ve also raised hell here because I got here when I was in my 20s.”
Halfway through the three-minute video, his pride gives way to frustration. He sounds disheartened with Vail, the place he lovingly inked on his ankle decades earlier. He brings up his cats and his mood softens. The thought of maybe being priced out of the valley scares him. “I need a place to live for my cats and me for a long, long time,” he says. “This is my home. If I can’t get a place to live I’m gonna be forced to leave this valley and I can’t do that because I live here because the one thing that keeps me going are the activities like the skiing and the archery and the fly-fishing. I keep very, very busy.”
After that video, Moreau went quiet for a few years. He was still a character on the Vail stage, a mainstay at the Safeway Starbucks. In the mornings, drinking his coffee and reading the paper. He marched in the Fourth of July parade and was a regular in line at the Vista Bahn lift. But there were no DUIs, drug charges, or gun arrests. Then came November 7, 2009.
The slopes would open in 13 days. Veterans Day was only four days away. The 40th anniversary of Moreau’s discharge date from active duty had been November 5. And Moreau had been drinking. He’d already had a few glasses of whiskey when he hopped into his blue Dodge Durango, carrying his .45, and eventually ended up at the Sandbar. He left his cats Ocelot, Tusafer, Magicker, and Iris Marie crawling around his apartment, and a business card and photo of himself tacked to his front door. The card read: Richard (Rossi) Moreau. Master of Combat Arms. Sgt. U.S. Army Spec. Ops.
He pulled into a handicap spot in front of the bar. He was wearing tattered jeans and a black, long-sleeve shirt. He was in a good mood when he arrived, according to official records of that night. He drank Jim Beam and water, struck up conversations with people. He even helped a woman put on her coat. Not long after Moreau got there, a couple of Vail officers popped in, noticed Moreau, and left.
Moreau’s mood soured after being snubbed by a group of younger guys uninterested in the talkative veteran. One of the men, Justin Dale Center, had what he would describe as an “altercation” with Moreau. People at the bar took notice. Sandbar staff escorted a stumbling Moreau out of the bar. Center then went outside to smoke and next he knew, Moreau was firing multiple gunshots at him. Center was hit in the back of his right thigh. Moreau fired at an employee who threw him out of the bar, hitting the man in the arm. Amidst the chaos outside, Moreau walked back into the bar.
Some six months later, the pretrial hearings in the criminal case against Richard Moreau are underway. Moreau is charged with first-degree murder and seven other felonies. On this spring morning, Moreau is in an Eagle County courtroom watching himself closely on a large screen, watching himself shoot people and kill a man. He leans to his left and whispers to his court-appointed attorneys. From the gallery, it’s tough to hear what he says, but the letters PTSD are audible.
Moreau has been incarcerated at the Eagle County Justice Center since he killed Kitching and wounded three others at the Sandbar. Fifth Judicial District Attorney, “Kobe DA” Mark Hurlbert, who’s been on the job since December 2002, plans to show Moreau deliberated before he killed Kitching, which in this case is a requirement for a first-degree murder conviction. The bar security tape is part of Hurlbert’s case. Moreau has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Moreau did not respond to a letter I mailed to him at the justice center or to the phone message I left there for him. According to what a former cellmate of Moreau’s told me, Moreau has said he doesn’t know what happened that night; that he was on a new medication that made him black out. Once trial begins—it is slated to start in February—there will likely be debate about whether Moreau meant to kill, whether he was in his right mind, and whether the shooting spree could have been prevented.
The Vail PD has been investigating the Sandbar shooting since that night a year ago this month. The investigation, which acting administration commander Craig Bettis has overseen, turned up a number of troubling incidents never before reported to the police. Like the night Moreau invited his new neighbor, Francisco “Mike” Santos, over for drinks and ended up pulling what Santos described as “a Dirty Harry-looking” revolver and pointing it six inches from Santos’ face. Santos didn’t tell the police. He figured even if the cops confiscated Moreau’s guns, Moreau would still come after him. Bettis says if a few more of those stories would have made it to the department, Moreau would have been arrested.
Bettis says there was no reason for the Vail PD to believe Moreau would open fire in the Sandbar or any other bar in town. It wasn’t like, Bettis says, there was a pattern of arrests in the weeks leading up to the shooting. Bettis says Moreau was a “colorful character” the department was aware of, but being colorful is not a crime. In a pretrial hearing, one of the Vail PD officers, Ryan Millbern, testified that the department indeed was aware of Moreau. He said that Moreau’s name was on a list of locals to watch. Millbern said the PD knew Moreau had weapons, had been caught with weapons, and drank a lot.
Moreau’s dear friend, Garneau, questions whether Moreau “deserves” to spend the rest of his life in prison. In a letter he sent to the editor of the Vail Daily Garneau wrote that Moreau “has never had the kind of treatment that can ease the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. … Rossi slipped through the cracks with the VA because it’s so far to Grand Junction.”
Jim Lindley has little patience for such talk. “He didn’t just fall through the cracks,” Lindley says. “He walked right through them.” Lindley was the victim Moreau fired at before killing Kitching. He is back on his feet after a handful of surgeries, and he believes something could and should have been done to prevent Moreau’s shooting spree. He says the Vail PD “had plenty of opportunities to deal with him. He was an obvious threat and there was nothing done about it. He was coddled.”
As Lindley points out, there were plenty of opportunities for the Vail PD to deal with Moreau. Also—and perhaps more critical—there were plenty of opportunities for the courts to deal with this well-known, repeat offender, beginning with his first arrest back in 1976. Which raises questions about how the Vail-area courts handled Moreau’s many offenses, like those from the ’70s and ’80s. When I requested the complete record of Moreau’s criminal history including sentencing, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert refused to make them available, citing the pending criminal trial and an order from Judge R. Thomas Moorehead.
In response to my request, Hurlbert wrote: “If your statements are accurate, that the public interest in getting such records is in ‘knowing how Colorado’s criminal justice system failed to protect the public from this well-known repeat offender, including how both the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s office and the District Court of Eagle County handled the numerous occasions when Mr. Moreau was involved in the criminal justice system’ (an interest I wholeheartedly believe in) then that public interest will be there in February after the trial is over and after I not only am allowed but required to give much more than you asked for.”
The box of a courtroom in Eagle is brightly lit. Sharp, synthetic light illuminates the pew-style seating in the back, a podium in the middle of the room flanked by desks, and the iconic raised bench up front. Moreau always walks out of the secret-looking door on the right. He’s pleasant to the guard. On this particular day, he wears a sports coat and jeans, and Vail Police officer Ryan Millbern is on the stand recounting that November 7, 2009 night:
Millbern got to Moreau shortly after Lt. Greg Daly cuffed the veteran. Millbern stayed with Moreau in the corner of the bar while the rest of the officers arrived on the scene. Millbern and Moreau weren’t friends, but the two had conversations years ago about their mutual love for animals, ferrets in particular. Millbern was known around the department as the ferret guy. As Millbern guarded the suspect, Moreau was babbling. Officer Millbern tried to quiet him down, but Moreau kept on talking:
“I really fucked up tonight, didn’t I?”
“How many people did I kill?”
“I told the VA this was going to happen.”
“The VA didn’t listen.”
“If they lock me up, I’m going to kill myself.”
“The only thing I care about is my four cats.”