Father reflects after his deputy son killed

Posted at 4:15 AM, Mar 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-09 20:55:21-05

The Park County sheriff called it a high risk eviction. He sent seven deputies, and he went himself, to help a man move from his home last month in Park County.

But instead of packing up and leaving, the man started shooting. Seconds later, one deputy was dead, another was critically injured, a third deputy was also shot and the man facing eviction was dead.

The deputy killed that day was well known in the community — Nathan Carrigan, a beloved high school coach.

He went to high school at Platte Canyon High School and later returned there as the School Resource Officer. He was one of the first deputies to arrive at the school the day a man took a classroom full of students hostage. His own sister would have been in that room if she hadn’t gone home sick that day. Nate mourned with the community at the loss of Emily Keyes, a student killed by the gunman in that standoff.

Now that community mourns the loss of Nate.

He was the second son of John and Melissa Carrigan. John thought he and his wife would have two children, a boy and girl. John D was born first, so John thought his second child would be a girl.

“God changed his mind before delivery,” John said. And Nathan joined the family. A few years later there would be a little brother, Jeremiah.

John said he gave up hope of having a little girl. When Melissa got pregnant again, he expected a fourth boy.

“We had an ultrasound done, they assured me it was a boy,” John said.

But when the baby was born, John got a surprise. He had a daughter — Alisha.

"I about fell over, I thought the doctor was pulling my chain,” John said. “Once I got her in my arms, it took awhile to get her away from me.”

As the kids grew up, John D. stood out for his ability to read and comprehend, John said.

But Nathan?

“He was amazing, he was athletically gifted,” John said. "They’ve all been strong, but Nathan was the one who was truly gifted. Early on, he was the one who showed an ability for endurance, strength. He had an ability to pick the game apart.”

Nathan loved football, he liked wrestling, then he got into baseball, John said.

Nathan earned 12 letters in high school.

John said Nathan actually was offered a 13th letter, but he turned it down.

“He picked up a shot put, set a record,” John said. “I think he said [he set the record] by half an inch.”

However, since Nathan wasn’t part of the track team, going to practices and stuff, he didn’t want it, John said as he reminisced about Nathan’s high school years.

But Nathan didn’t just excel in sports, he also ended up, at a young age, standing up for the underdog.

John remembers a bully picking on John D. in elementary school and Nathan being the one who fought back. John said in high school, a couple seniors tried to haze Nathan, but the seniors ended up embarrassed.

After high school, Nathan was offered some athletic scholarships and he took one to go to Northwestern in Iowa, but it didn’t work out and he came home. He took classes at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, but he found his calling when he started taking law enforcement classes.

"I had known Fred [Wegener, the current Park County Sheriff] for years. Nathan said that’s what he wanted to do,” John said.

At the law enforcement academy, Nathan earned awards for shooting and driving, and when he graduated he got numerous job offers, John said.

"He had planned on coming back and working in Park County for the sheriff’s office,” John said. "Fred made a big impression on my son.”

“He [Nate] had a sense of fair play about him that people noticed,” John said. "He had the gift of knowing people, reading people. It’s what he enjoyed.”

John D. and Jeremiah ended up in law enforcement, too. Jeremiah is a sergeant in Black Hawk. John D. is a chef at the state Department of Corrections.

“We have a saying in our house — we hook 'em, book 'em and cook for them,” John said.

Their grandfather served in law enforcement, too.

“In the Carrigans, every other generation has been an outlaw or a cop, sometimes in the same generation,” John said.

“It wasn’t what I wanted to do, “ John said.

As a deputy in the place where he grew up, Nathan ended up pulling over some of his buddies occasionally, even arresting friends and classmates.

“But he took the time to counsel them and try to get them straightened out,” John said. “He cared.”

The father tells the story of when Nate ended up having to take a friend’s driver’s license. Nate made arrangements for his buddy to get back and forth to work.

“That was Nathan,” John said. “I heard more than one story about how he would turn a life around and check back up on them."

“He was such a big teddy bear, but he didn’t want anybody to know that,” Nathan’s mother, Melissa, said. “He didn’t like to see any unhappiness."

Both Melissa and John feel like Nathan’s real calling seemed to be helping kids.

"He had a real concern about the kids,” John said. “He cared for kids, even though he had none of his own.”

Melissa tells the story of how Nathan became buddies with Josh, the son of Jim Owsiany, Nathan's football coach. Josh had Down's Syndrome.

“They were great buds,” Melissa said. “They would go everywhere together.”

“Josh would refer to him [Nathan] as football man,” Melissa said.

“When Nathan was a school resource officer, that is truly where he was in his zone,” John said.

Nathan was good at spotting the kids with a problem, John explained. And he would get kids out of trouble before they even knew they were going to get in trouble.

"He knew if he could catch them before [something happened], he could nudge them in the right of direction,” John said.

But one child lost in Park County really affected Nathan.

On September 27, 2006, an armed man walked into Platte Canyon High School and took six girls hostage.

Nathan was on duty that day. He was one of the first deputies to the school.

The gunman let four girls go before breaking off negotiations. When the SWAT officers stormed the room, using explosives to enter through the room's single door, one girl escaped, but Emily Keyes was shot and killed.

“It really hit him,” John said. “It affected the whole community."

Nathan had offers to leave Park County for other jobs, but John said money wasn’t why Nathan was in law enforcement.

"He was not going to see something like that happen up here again,” John said. “This was his hometown, he wanted to be here."

“[The shooting] made a huge impact on our whole community, definitely affected Nathan and Jeremiah, the younger brother who had just joined the Park County Sheriff's office," John said.

Now it's Nathan the community is mourning nine and a half years later.

"The possibility of [something happening to] my children, I know they can all take care of themselves,” John said. "I was apprehensive at first, but they were good at what they do.”

John said Nathan had been involved in numerous standoffs over the years.

“Even when they expected trouble, Nathan would walk up and bring them out without a problem,” John said. “He could talk, but he was also a grappler. He could control and contain.”

On the day Nathan was shot, John said the other deputies wanted Nathan with them.

"They wanted Nathan,” John said. “This was his neighborhood, he considered them his people, so he was there.”

John said Nathan had had encounters with this suspect before.

“He couldn’t have lived with himself if someone had gotten hurt,” John said. "He wouldn’t have hesitated to give his life in the place of one of the officers or anybody for that matter.”

"We had talked about this kind of stuff. It wasn’t because he wanted to be a hero, it was how he felt about people,” John explained.

On the day of the eviction, John said he was listening to old time radio shows when he heard about the shooting.

“I tried Nathan’s number a couple times,” John said. “Then I called communications and got the information I didn’t want to hear.”

“He truly did care about the people up here. “ John said.

Nathan cared "to the point where it was as important, or more important, than his own happiness," his father said.

"He didn’t like to see people sad,” John said. “He'd give them a smile and because smiles are cheap, he’d give them another.”

John wants to keep Nathan’s helpful spirit going. They’ve created the Nate Carrigan Scholarship Fund.

"Not just the $50 to $500 scholarship that doesn’t buy a quarters worth of books anymore,” John said. "We want enough money to really help a child. Someone who deserved to go to school, but whose parents didn’t have the financial resources.”

"That was important to him,” John said. “We’re hoping to set something up like that."

John said he was very proud of his son and he and Melissa know Nathan was really loved in Park County.

"I never realized how much I was sharing with the whole community,” Melissa said. "It’s not my boy, it’s our boy, as in the whole community.”

"I’m getting messages all the time thanking me for raising such a great kid, man, a stand-up man, principled,” Melissa said. "I didn’t do it, the community helped. I just told him right from wrong, and he took it from there.”

“He was something else,” Melissa said. “I am so proud of him."

"It made me proud that way he carried himself,” John said. “But God needed him more, we were blessed to have him as long as we did."