Photos courtesy of Anne Gerringer and Deputy Vance Fleet
Early on the morning of New Year’s Eve, police officers responded to a disturbance at a Highlands Ranch apartment complex. During the subsequent events, five officers were wounded, one fatally shot, by a suspect experiencing a mental crisis.
The life of Deputy Zackari Parrish, 29, was claimed in the attack on authorities that morning.
Parrish was sworn in as a member of the Castle Rock Police Department in 2015 by Chief Jack Cauley, where he served for more than two years before moving to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in order to be closer to his family.
“He had a smile. A firm handshake,” Cauley told The Denver Post. “I could tell by his presence and see in his eyes he was excited to be here.”
Officer Parrish’s life was honored in a candle light vigil on January 1 as well as during a funeral service open to the general public on January 5. A procession of first responders and law enforcement transported his casket to Cherry Hills Community Church for the service, where thousands of people viewed the ceremony. A few of these moments of reflection on the first responder’s life carried especially profound meaning for viewers.
“What really got to me [at the funeral] was the military aspect of it. Instead of a 21 gun salute, they had a 21 rings of the bell, that was pretty powerful,” Deputy Vance Fleet, Vista School Resource Officer and member of the procession for the service, said. “They had a live [dispatcher] get on there and they called out his call sign, and they called it three times and of course he is not answering and then they just say ‘Deputy Parrish rest in peace, end of watch’ and they give the date and time and all of that.”
The 21-bell salute is often used as a substitute for the firing party at the funeral of a fallen member of law enforcement.
The officer is survived by two daughters and his wife, Grace Moehlenpah, who spoke about her husband at the vigil. Moehlenpah wore his badge and was supported by her daughter, who commanded her mother to “be happy.”
“I thought it was really sad that the little girl kind of was aware a little of what was going on but still trying to help her mom get through it,” senior Hannah Tucker said.
Moehlenpah graduated from Vista in 2006, and was co-host of the student-run Vista Vision television show. Staff members who have worked at the school for a long enough period of time recall Moehlenpah as an intelligent and kind student.
“She is still, to this day, one of my favorite students. She is just an awesome, awesome human being,” English teacher Jake Sabot said. “She was one of those students who brought the level of the class up just by being there.”
Sabot heard the news of the attack from his sister-in-law, who graduated in the same class as Moehlenpah, through his wife. His first reaction, unaware of the specifics of the case, was that the wife of Officer Parrish was actually one of the people in the apartment where the shooting took place. Sabot’s connection to Deputy Parrish’s wife magnified the impact of the true events of December 31.
“Once I had found out what really happened, it was just devastating. The thought of that happening to a person like her, I can’t even fathom how awful that is,” Sabot said. “Knowing that the person that Grace ended up with has got to be equally as amazing as she is and to think about the pain that she must be going through and having to explain to her children that daddy’s gone and he is not coming back just tore me apart.”
Deputy Parrish’s family as well as first responders in general received a mass outpouring of support and appreciation from the community following the tragedy. On his way into Mountain Ridge Middle School for a workout, Officer Fleet was surprised by chalk drawings on the school sidewalk honoring those with “blue blood” and expressing appreciation for their service. Fleet explained that he hopes the events that transpired over break help students in realizing that officers are working to help the community.
A GoFundMe page was set up in order to support Moehlenpah and her daughters. So far, $336,111 has been raised out of the page goal of $350,000. Teachers from the school are also gathering Vista t-shirts to create a quilt for the family.
“Just realize that the Sheriff’s Office is out there to protect our community, that’s what we do,” Fleet said. “It has been amazing how much of the community has come forward.”
The GoFundMe page supporting Officer Parrish’s family can be accessed here.