Burns man shoots, kills masked assailant
BURNS — A gun-wielding ski-masked intruder was shot and killed when a break-in turned deadly in this rural community.
Brooks Hampton, 32, kicked in Douglas Behrends’ front door and threatened him with a gun before Behrends shot him, Behrends said. That ski mask was still on Hampton’s head when Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis arrived to investigate the scene, Bettis said.
Hampton died from a single gunshot to the face from a .40-caliber handgun, Bettis said.
Behrends was home in his apartment around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, watching TV and sitting in his chair when he saw lights on his ceiling from a car pulling up his driveway.
“I walked over, looked out and saw a car I didn’t recognize,” Behrends said, sharing his account of events from the Eagle County Justice Center on Wednesday.
The car was parked about 20 yards from the stairs that lead to Behrends’ second-floor apartment above the garage. The driver sat in the car for a minute or two after he stopped, Behrends said.
“That’s a long time for someone to sit in a parked car,” Behrends said.
Hampton was wearing a dark jacket with a hood that was pulled up over his head and had his hands jammed into the jacket pockets, Behrends said.
As Hampton kept walking toward the stairs, Behrends kept shouting and asking Hampton what he wanted. Hampton did not reply; he just kept walking with his face down, Behrends said.
“I yelled down twice, ‘What’s up? How’s it going?’” Behrends said.
Hampton’s hood was still over his head, his hands were still jammed into his pockets and he kept walking silently toward the stairs, Behrends said.
“When there was no response and he kept walking, I started to get suspicious,” Behrends said. “He never looked up or anything.”
Up the stairs
Behrends’ apartment is above a two-car garage, and as Hampton reached the bottom of the stairs Behrends shouted one last time for Hampton to state his business, he said.
When Hampton didn’t, Behrends darted inside and pulled out his “personal defense weapon.”
Behrends eased back to his glass front door and looked outside onto his deck. He said he didn’t see anyone for about 20 seconds.
“It should take only about three seconds for someone to walk up my steps,” Behrends said.
He looked back into his house, looked around and then looked back outside.
“I saw someone slinking along in the dark where I could barely see him,” Behrends said.
Behrends opened the door a bit and shouted outside.
“Identify yourself and tell me who you are right now!” Behrends said he shouted at Hampton.
Still no response.
“Tell me who you are!” Behrends said he shouted again.
Hampton appeared at the door and kicked it open, knocking Behrends back into the room.
Hampton stepped into the room pointing a handgun at Behrends, wearing a ski mask and his hood still pulled up over his head, Behrends said.
“He was advancing toward me screaming, ‘Get on the floor! Get on the floor now! Get on the floor now!’” Behrends said.
Behrends said he shouted back.
“I had my personal defense weapon and was yelling, ‘Tell me who you are!’” Behrends said.
Hampton kept coming, and in about two seconds had advanced 3 or 4 feet into Behrends’ house.
Behrends said that’s when he raised his handgun and fired.
“I heard a click. To me it sounded like a safety coming off a handgun, and I shot,” Behrends said
The round struck Hampton in the face, through the mask.
Behrends said he was shaky and shocked when he started hurrying toward his landlord’s house to tell them what had happened, and to call the authorities. He doesn’t have a land telephone line, and there’s no cell service in that part of Burns.
He was part of the way through the 100-yard walk to his landlords’ house when another terrifying thought occurred to him.
“I had no way of knowing whether the same thing was going on at my landlord’s house. There may be 10 people over there,” Behrends said.
There wasn’t; Hampton had acted alone.
They were acquainted
Behrends is originally from the Midwest and said he has been working in the valley’s construction industry for 15 years. Hampton grew up here.
Yes, Behrends said, they knew each other and Behrends knows Hampton’s family.
“I considered him a good acquaintance,” Behrends said. “I’m traumatized. If it had been someone else I might not be as much.”
“I have no idea why he was doing this,” Behrends said.
Sheriff’s investigators questioned Behrends that night, finally releasing him.
“I was taken in and questioned, and I was cleared of all wrongdoing. I was released. It was a clear case of self-defense,” he said.
The shooting remains under investigation, the Sheriff’s Office said in a written statement. The Sheriff’s Office has not released an incident report.
Colorado law allows residents to use deadly force against intruders.
Not through yet
Behrends’ saga wasn’t over, though.
After he went home Friday night, friends kept an eye on him through the weekend and helped him clean up the place.
Monday, though, sheriff’s detectives drove back out to Behrends’ house, only this time in an unmarked car with two members of Hampton’s family driving along behind them to retrieve Hampton’s car. It had been there all weekend.
The Sheriff’s Office said they sent a message to Behrends through his landlord to tell him they were coming, because Behrends doesn’t have a landline and there’s no cell service in that part of the Burns area.
Whether Behrends received the message remained unclear Wednesday.
What is clear is that two Sheriff’s Office detectives drove up in an unmarked vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe, which Behrends said he did not recognize. Lt. Dan Loya of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said detectives all over the nation always drive unmarked vehicles, and the Sheriff’s Office is no exception. Marked vehicles are for patrol and public awareness, he said. He added that Behrends knew they were coming.
Behrends said he did recognize the Hampton family’s car, as well as members of the family who were in it. They had followed the detectives to get Brooks’ car.
The detectives said as they drove up, they noticed the door to Behrends’ apartment was slightly ajar, like someone was watching their approach. They also said that whoever was watching had an object in their hands, and that they initially thought it was a video camera.
A photographer and videographer from National Geographic has been making a documentary about Rocky Mountain law enforcement and has been filming around Behrends’ home as part of that project.
The deputies turned their police lights on. In court documents, they say that’s when they spotted the silver barrel of a rifle.
Behrends said that in the daylight, he can see for miles from his second-story deck.
“I heard a vehicle coming up my driveway, and saw that it was not marked as a police officer’s car, with a car driven by the family of the assailant with it,” Behrends said. “That was a very bad decision on their part.”
“They could have driven a black and white, and not had a vehicle of the assailant’s family. I honestly thought they were going to jump out and start shooting,” Behrends said.
Behrends said he keeps several guns in his house.
“It’s not illegal,” he said.
The detectives stepped out of the Tahoe and drew their police pistols, shouting to Behrends to put down the rifle, show his hands and walk down the steps. Behrends did.
The detectives handcuffed Behrends and checked his blood alcohol level, which they said measured .174.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Behrends remained in the Eagle County jail, partly because he’s booked for menacing and partly for his own safety, prosecutors said. No charges have been officially filed.
At Wednesday morning’s bond hearing, prosecutor Joe Kirwan asked that bond be set at $25,000, citing concerns about Behrends’ health and safety.
Judge Katharine Sullivan set bond at $5,000, twice the normal $2,500 bond for something like that.
Behrends is back in court Jan. 6.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.