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Wednesday marks 29 years since mass shooting at Chuck E. Cheese in Aurora

Posted at 11:33 AM, Dec 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-14 13:33:54-05

AURORA, Colo. — Wednesday marks 29 years since the day a 19-year-old ambushed and murdered four people inside a Chuck E. Cheese in Aurora.

On the evening of Dec. 14, 1993, Nathan Dunlap killed four employees of an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese while they cleaned up the restaurant after hours. The victims were identified as Sylvia Crowell, 19, Ben Grant, 17, Margaret Kohlberg, 50, and Colleen O'Connor, 17. They all died from gunshots to the head.

In addition, Dunlap also nearly killed Bobby Stephens, who was 20 at the time. Stephens had been shot in the jaw but managed to escape.

Dunlap, who was 19 years old at the time of the shooting, then fled the scene.

He was arrested about 12 hours later on Dec. 15, 1993 for investigation of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He was later formally charged with the murders.

Dunlap was fired from the family restaurant over the summer after arguing with a kitchen manager over work hours, employees said.

Denver 7+ Colorado News Latest Headlines | December 14, 11am

Authorities say Dunlap took police to a gym bag outside a building near his mother’s home that contained a semiautomatic handgun, six rounds of ammunition and a pair of gloves.

During the trial, prosecutors said the gunman was seeking revenge after being fired from his job there as a cook. He entered the restaurant, hid in a restroom and emerged after closing, prosecutors said.

Phil Cherner, one of Dunlap's attorneys, said Dunlap had undiagnosed bipolar disorder at the time of the crime, and that his attitude had changed since the state prison system began medicating him in 2006.

In 1996, Dunlap was convicted by a jury of multiple counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, robbery, theft and burglary. He was sentenced to death in Arapahoe County on four counts of first-degree murder.

On May 1, 2013, he had exhausted all of his appeals and the District Court in Arapahoe County issued a warrant for his execution sometime between the dates of Aug. 18-23, 2013. He submitted a petition for executive clemency and on May 22, 2013, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper granted him a temporary reprieve from the death sentence.

His decision to block the execution of Dunlap for as long as he is governor infuriated victims’ relatives and drew quick criticism from Republicans ahead of the 2014 election.

Dunlap's attorney, Cherner, said Dunlap was "grateful. His expressions of remorse were genuine. He is truly sad for what happened."

On March 23, 2020, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill to repeal the state’s death penalty and commuted the sentences of the three men on the state’s death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Dunlap was one of those three.

"No punishment for Offender No. 89148, death or life imprisonment without possibility of parole, can bring back the victims or lessen the pain and heartache he has caused," Polis said in the executive order. "My decision today is not a commentary on the moral or ethical implications of the death penalty in our society; rather it is a reflection of current law in Colorado, where the death penalty has been abolished."