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Friends recall Eldora resort gunman as shy, smart

Julie Poppen and Kevin Vaughan
Rocky Mountain News
Brian Lehmann/Rocky Mountain NewsDerik Bonestroo's home, 191 S. Jackson in Nederland. Friends say he liked comic books, world history and the outdoors.
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The Derik Bonestroo who came to Eldora Mountain Resort on Tuesday morning packing a gun is as much a mystery to his old friends as are the demons propelling him to a violent end.

They couldn’t relate to the ski-lift operator who declared his intent to convert non-Christians then gunned down the resort’s popular general manager.

Wounded during a gunbattle with a lawman, the 24-year-old shot himself in the head.

The Derik they remembered was shy and smart. An honor student who played center on the Lyons High School football team that went to the state championships twice before he graduated in 2003.

He was the kid with a deep voice and dry wit who came out of his shell when his family hosted a German exchange student. His family’s home near Rabbit Mountain was a favorite hangout for youths, attracted by the terrain suited to four-wheeling and the pool table downstairs.

They knew Derik as a young man who liked comic books, world history, the outdoors and hunting. He loved guns, and even studied gunsmithing in Trinidad.

He was not a guy they thought would ever hurt anyone.

“It was really a shocker,” said former friend Abe Vasquez, 23. “I talked to his dad a year or so ago and he said (Derik) was doing good.”

Brent Hammans, 24, who was quarterback on the football team with Bonestroo, had the same reaction. “This is so out of character of him,” Hammans said. “I can think of 10 other people I’d think could do this before him. He was always a perfectly normal, great, great guy.”

Bonestroo’s family members could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Boulder County authorities confirmed that Bonestroo killed his cat, leaving the pet in a pool of blood in the ground level room in Nederland where he lived alone, some time before heading to the ski area early Tuesday.

Wearing all black and acting oddly, Bonestroo also showed up at Cynthia Davis’ door in Nederland, looking for her former neighbors who had worked for Eldora but had moved away. Davis said she could not believe that the black item strapped to his thigh was a gun, so she didn’t call 911.

Shortly after 7 a.m., Bonestroo appeared in the locker room in the pump house near the base of the mountain during a meeting of 15 to 20 resort workers.

Bonestroo, who wasn’t well-known in Nederland or at Eldora, where he had worked for a month, fired a bullet into the ceiling after saying something like: “I’m a Christian, and if you’re not a Christian I’m here to convert you.”

The ski area’s general manager, Brian Mahon, a 49-year-old husband and father of two daughters, was working in an adjacent room. He burst into the locker room when he heard the shot.

According to witnesses, Bonestroo asked Mahon which religion he believed in. When Mahon answered that he was Catholic, Bonestroo shot him once in the head and once in his chest.

Bonestroo fled in his Infiniti vehicle but was intercepted by Boulder Sheriff’s Deputy John Seifert, with whom he exchanged gunfire on the Peak to Peak Highway a mile south of town.

Seifert wounded Bonestroo, but those wounds did not kill him, Boulder County Coroner Thomas Faure ruled Wednesday. Faure listed the cause of death as suicide by a gunshot to the head.

The ski area reopened Wednesday after being closed Tuesday. Counseling was offered to employees, and a handful of lift operators who saw the carnage stayed home. Asked if there were any red flags about Bonestroo’s behavior before Tuesday morning, resort spokesman Rob Linde declined to comment.

At a community meeting Tuesday evening, Sheriff Joe Pelle said that Bonestroo’s mental health had deteriorated in recent days and that he had become “fixated with religion,” according to the Longmont Times-Call.

That stunned his old friends, who don’t recall Bonestroo being particularly religious.

“I don’t remember hearing about any religion from him,” Hammans said.

John Nichols, coach of the Lyons High School Lions, said Bonestroo seemed fine when he ran into him in the past year or so. Now, he knows the young man whom he described as incredibly “hard working” suffered in ways that few understood.

“I think sometimes it’s important for people to understand that mental illness gets people to do things that are beyond themselves,” Nichols said. “It’s a horrible thing for his family. He did kill somebody.”


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