A gunman opened fire in a dormitory for young Christian missionaries in the Denver suburb of Arvada early Sunday, killing two of the center's staff members and wounding two others.
Tiffany Johnson, 26, who grew up in Chisholm and graduated from Hibbing High School in 1999, died at a Denver hospital minutes after the shooting.
The incident took place in a dormitory used by missionary training staff for the worldwide group Youth With a Mission.
No arrests had been made in the case as of Sunday night.
Johnson had been with the group since last year and became an instructor this year.
"She was still awake in the ambulance, still trying to give the description of the young man who had just shot her several times,'' Peter Warren, director of Youth With a Mission in Denver, told the News Tribune. "Tiff was an incredible person. ... We're all still in shock here.''
Cheryl Morrison, who taught at the missionary training campus, said Johnson was an amazingly beautiful person.
"She was the hospitality director, and she got that position because she was so kind and so giving and so very good at what she did,'' Morrison said. "This is such a horror ... and while our heart goes out to her family back in Minnesota, everyone should know she died doing what she loved and believed in ... teaching young people how to go abroad and spread the word of Jesus Christ.''
Carla Macynski of Side Lake, a family friend of the Johnsons, said Tiffany earned an associate degree from Anoka Community College and then worked as a nanny before joining Youth With a Mission.
"Tiffany was a well-liked, easygoing 26-year-old. She was friendly, adventurous and a definite leader. She wanted to see the world," Macynski said as she held back tears while reading a family statement.
Johnson's vocational path "was tough, and some people were judgmental," said Elizabeth LaLonde, who grew up with her and now lives in Georgia. "But she just felt that it was something she was supposed to do. Tiffany just had that personality where she could've done anything she wanted, and it's just horrible that somebody took that from her."
Johnson had traveled to Egypt, Libya and South Africa as part of Youth With a Mission.
"She especially liked working with children. ... She was looking forward to being a mother," Macynski said.
Jessica Warren, 21, a close friend of Johnson and daughter of Peter Warren and his wife, Linda, said Johnson had come to the Denver area because she wanted to combine her love of snowboarding with her love for God. "She would have happily died for his sake, because her whole life revolved around God," Jessica said.
Johnson had enrolled in a 12-week course designed for skateboarders, snowboarders and others seeking to use sports and popular culture to reach people.
On Sunday, dozens of people stopped by her parents' home in Chisholm,
Johnson is survived by her parents, an older sister and a younger brother. Several family members were en route to Denver, Peter Warren said.
Funeral arrangements had not yet been made public Sunday night.
Judy Johnson, a guidance counselor at Hibbing High School when Tiffany graduated, described a young girl who was quiet and "hadn't bloomed yet'' in high school and was never in trouble.
"She was not one of the students who spent a lot of time in my office. She was a young girl who was kind, giving, bright, light and had friends,'' Judy Johnson (no relation) said. "It's such a terrible thing.''
After high school, Johnson lived in the Twin Cities for a few years, having fun, babysitting and sniffing out the best bargains, LaLonde said.
"She was just the life of the party," LaLonde said. "She was outgoing and loud and always smiling."
Second shooting related?
Local, state and federal law enforcement officers were investigating a possible link with another shooting about 65 miles away in Colorado Springs that occurred outside a church Sunday afternoon.
A man walked into a church there and opened fire before being shot and killed by a church security guard. As many as five other people at the church were shot and at least one died, the Associated Press reported. Others had been seriously wounded.
"We just don't know if there's any link. We have investigators down there right now trying to sort this out,'' Gary Creager, Arvada deputy police chief, told the News Tribune on Sunday evening.
Gov. Bill Ritter directed the Department of Public Safety, Colorado State Patrol and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to help local and federal agencies investigating the shootings.
The first shooting came a few hours after a masquerade party among staff at the missionary training facility.
The gunman came to the door of the dormitory and was let into a commons area when he asked to use the bathroom. He then asked if he could spend the night, Warren said.
For security reasons, only registered students are allowed to sleep in the dorm, Linda Warren said.
People at the door summoned Johnson, who had been watching a movie with her boyfriend, Dan Griebenow, 24, of South Dakota.
Johnson told the man that he couldn't stay in the building and was about to explain where he might find shelter when the man pulled out a semiautomatic handgun.
"Then, this is what I've got for you," the man said, and then opened fire.
It wasn't clear if the man had been in the building before.
"He wasn't involved in any of our programs. ... But it now appears he may have been someone who had been here before, for our community outreach or meal times. He had some kind of knowledge about what we were about,'' Peter Warren said. "And a few of our people thought they recognized him.''
Philip Crouse of Alaska, 24, was the other staff member killed in the first shooting, which occurred about 12:30 a.m. MST.
The third victim was Griebenow. He has a bullet in his neck and was listed Sunday night in critical but stable condition.
Griebenow joined the staff this year, Morrison said.
"They met here and had a serious Christian dating relationship. They were wonderful together,'' she said of Johnson and Griebenow.
The fourth victim, 22-year-old Charlie Blanch, suffered gunshot wounds to his leg and was in stable condition, Creager said. Blanch is from Burnsville, Minn.
Witnesses said the gunman was a white male, about 20 years old, wearing a dark jacket and skull cap. He may have glasses or a beard.
Police with dogs searched the area through the night, following tracks in fresh snow, and residents of nearby homes were notified by reverse 911 to be on the lookout.
Susan Medina of the Arvada Police Department said residents were asked to look out their windows for any tracks left in the snow during the night. About 4 inches of snow had fallen in the area in the past day.
Brady White, who attends Faith Bible Chapel, where the center is located, said students he spoke to called the experience "terrifying."
"They're just wonderful people," White said of the center's students. "Their mission is to know God and to make him known."
About 45 people were evacuated from the dormitory and moved to an undisclosed location.
Mimi Martin, who lives near the center, said she received the call about 9 a.m. warning neighbors to keep their doors and windows locked.
"Why would anybody want to hurt those kids?" Martin said. "I just pray for their families."
Darv Smith, director of a Youth With a Mission center in Boulder, Colo., said people ranging from their late teens to their 70s undergo a 12-week course that prepares them to be missionaries. He said the center trains about 300 people a year.
Staffers are usually former missionaries, as was Johnson, and that the "mercy ministries" performed by trainees include orphanage work. He said he didn't know where the group being trained in Arvada was going to be sent.
"It's like a Christian Peace Corps,'' Warren said.
Youth With a Mission was founded in 1960 and now has 1,100 locations with 16,000 full-time staffers, Smith said. The Arvada center was founded in 1984.