DENVER — An emotional Gov. John Hickenlooper called Wednesday the shooting death of state corrections chief Tom Clements and the signing of three gun-control bills “an incredibly tragic and sad coincidence.”
Clements was shot and killed as he answered the door at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at his home in Monument. No suspect has yet been identified or detained in the killing, according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s office.
Hickenlooper learned of the shooting about an hour later, but decided nonetheless to proceed with the signing ceremony for the three hotly contested gun-control bills. The governor signed the bills Wednesday morning as planned, followed by a press conference at the state capitol.
“I think as far as we know they’re two completely unrelated subjects,” said Hickenlooper. “I think it’s a coincidence, but an incredibly tragic and sad coincidence that we have to process all this in a single day.”
Even so, Senate President John Morse was quick to link the two events, saying that Clements’ death reinforced the need for gun control.
“It’s been an exhausting and emotionally draining session, and on a day we should be celebrating the signing of these three bills to make our community safer, I’m mourning the loss of yet one more person to this senseless violence that’s plaguing our entire country,” said Morse.
Clements, 58, was hired in 2011 to head the state Department of Corrections after 31 years with the Missouri corrections system. The governor praised him as a “dedicated, committed, funny, caring expert at corrections” and “somebody who worked in what is oftentimes a cold, dark world with a remarkably open and generous heart.”
“He would have expected us to sign these bills and go forward today,” said Hickenlooper. “That’s just the kind of man he was.”
The three bills, which take effect July 1, would mandate universal background checks for all firearms purchases, require gun buyers to pay for their checks, and restrict the sale and transfer of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds.
Despite the heated weeks-long effort to convince the governor to veto the bills, opposition at the state capitol Wednesday was muted. A handful of demonstrators made an appearance, while an airplane flew overhead with the message, “WHY DOES HICK HATE GUNS?”
Authorities are searching for a late-model, two-door, “boxy” style vehicle, similar to a 1990s-era Lincoln. The car was described by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office as dark and shiny in color.
“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,” said the sheriff’s office in a statement. “However, we remain open minded to all investigative possibilities and continue to work all available clues and sources of information.”
At least one neighbor told reporters that he believed Clements’ death was “planned” and related to his position as the state’s prisons chief.
“I don’t think it’s indicative of the neighborhood at all. I think it’s indicative of a very targeted crime, given Tom’s occupation and lifelong career,” neighbor Matt Dunston told KUSA-TV in Denver.
Clements was known as a prison reformer who emphasized preparing inmates to succeed upon their release. The governor said he accomplished more in his two years in Colorado than others have done in eight years.
“One of the first things his wife said, ‘The reforms he was doing, make sure that you continue those,’” said Hickenlooper.