GREAT FALLS — Members of the Great Falls community held a vigil Friday evening for the victims of a deadly shooting at the Emerald City Casino Tuesday morning.
Brittney Williams, Kayla Dutton, and Michelle Brandt organized the vigil as a way for family and friends, as well as total strangers, to come and pay their respects as the city mourns the loss of the three victims.
“The main goal for us to put this vigil together is to try to get our community together and remembering these three people who lost their lives tragically on Tuesday,” said Williams. We want to bring everyone together and share our thoughts and our respects.”
While the police investigation into why this senseless shooting happened is still ongoing, one thing is clear: Steve Hale, Cheryl Larson, and Wendy Carlson touched the lives of so many people in Great Falls and all across the country and the world.
Williams started with a speech about each of the victims, using information gathered from friends and family of each one to paint a picture of how loved they truly were.
One woman remembered Wendy as a bright and smiling face who was always in a good mood whenever people came up and spoke to her at the Emerald City Casino where the shooting took place.
For Williams and her friends, Friday was about showing the families of those lost that they don’t have to go through this alone. “I know that the families and the friends are having a hard time processing everything that had just happened,” she said. “This is our gift to everybody to put something nice together and remembering them.”
They expected dozens, but when close to 100 people showed up and stood outside for hours to pay their respects, they were amazed. “It absolutely touches my heart,” Williams said while trying to fight back tears.
Whether they knew the victims personally or not, people came out in droves to show their support. It was almost as if they had all lost a family member; like the community was three shining lights darker.
There are a number of fundraisers and campaigns currently accepting donations for the victims’ families. Timothy Edwards, the fourth victim, was shot in the head, and remains hospitalized, but is expected to recover. A family member created a GoFundMe account , which states: "He is a father of four and a husband. He was shot point blank in the back of the head. He moved his head just in time for the bullet to go through his face!"
Brittney Williams and the other event organizers are raising money to support the families of the other three victims. They are looking to help with funeral costs, Christmas gifts, and other expenses that might arise around this time of year. They’re also looking for information regarding what some of the younger kids in the families might want for Christmas. If you would like to learn how you can help those families out, contact Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The victims: Three people, all from the Great Falls area, were killed. Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter released their names on Wednesday: Cheryl Ann Larson, 53 years old; Wendy Joanne Carlson, 60; and Steve Mitchell Hale, 61.
A fourth person, Timothy Edwards, was also shot, and survived. He remains hospitalized at Benefis Health System, and is expected to recover. A family member created a GoFundMe account , which states: "He is a father of four and a husband. He was shot point blank in the back of the head. He moved his head just in time for the bullet to go through his face!"
The suspect: Ricky Lee Gardipee has been identified as the suspect. Court documents filed in connection with Amanda Lynn Gilbreath state that between 1:40 a.m. and 5:45 a.m., Gardipee was "involved in a number of criminal acts, including a robbery and triple homicide." Petroleum County Coroner RJ Brown released the name on Wednesday morning. Gardipee, 41 years old, was shot by Deputy U.S. Marshals on 26th Street South near 7th Avenue South at about 5:40 a.m. His body was taken to the Montana Crime Lab in Billings for autopsy. According to the Montana Department of Corrections, Gardipee had a lengthy criminal record, with convictions in Cascade County and Lewis & Clark County for robbery, theft, burglary, assault on a peace officer, forgery, criminal possession of dangerous drugs, and failure to register as a violent offender.
The crime: A 911 call just after 2 a.m. requested emergency medical assistance at the Emerald Casino at 1701 10th Avenue South; a person was said to be bleeding from his face. When police officers and paramedics arrived, they found three people dead inside. A fourth victim was identified a short time later at Benefis Health System; that person is said to be recovering from a gunshot wound. There is no word yet on when or how he arrived at the hospital. Police immediately began searching for the suspect, and at about 5:45 a.m., they found the suspect in the area of 7th Avenue South and 26th Street; the Great Falls Police Department said that shots were fired, and the suspect - who was armed - was shot and killed by law enforcement officers. Agencies involved in the hours-long search for the suspect included the Great Falls Police Department, the Cascade County Sheriff's Office, the US Marshals Service, Montana Probation and Parole, and the FBI.
The investigation: Amanda Lynn Gilbreath and Johnny Anthony Komeotis are facing criminal charges in Great Falls in connection with the investigation into the murders at the Emerald City Casino.
Gilbreath has been charged with felony obstructing justice. According to court documents, Gilbreath was known to be in a relationship with Gardipee. The court documents state that on Monday, December 16 (the day before the murders) police officers saw a vehicle that belonged to Gardipee. Gardipee had been in several high-speed chases with officers recently using that vehicle. The officers saw two women drive away from the residence in the vehicle. Officers stopped the vehicle, and Gilbreath was inside. She agreed to allow them to look for Gardipee in the residence, but he was not there. Officers then asked her if she knew where Gardipee was, and she "became very evasive and said she had not seen him since Friday December 13." She denied having any contact with Gardipee recently.
The next day, after what court documents refer to as a "robbery and triple homicide," Gilbreath was questioned about the crimes. She admitted that the had seen Gardipee numerous times, including twice at her residence, including the day before when she told officers that she had no idea where he was. The court documents state that Gilbreath had been advised "on numerous occasions" of Gardipee's warrant, and that she could be charged with obstructing justice if she harbored him or concealed his whereabouts from authorities.
A probable cause affidavit states: "...she had knowledge of Gardipee's whereabouts on multiple occasions which could have resulted in his apprehension but instead she harbored, protected and provided aid to Gardipee." Court documents also note that Gilbreath has a conviction for robbery in 2004.
Komeotis has been charged with tampering with physical evidence, a felony, and resisting arrest, a misdemeanor. Court documents state that officers were preparing to serve a search warrant at a residence on Tuesday several hours after the murders. They talked to Komeotis at the residence and told him he needed to leave so they could search the apartment. Komeotis reportedly was confrontational and yelled profanities at the officers, but eventually stepped outside and walked about 15 feet away.
Komeotis then took out his cell phone and began recording the officers. An officer told Komeotis they were going to have to take his phone as evidence due to his recording; he yelled that they would not take it, and then broke the phone in half with his hands.
Court documents say the officers then went to take him into custody for destroying evidence, and he reportedly pulled away and used force to avoid being handcuffed. Eventually officers were able to take him into custody. Komeotis' criminal history includes robbery, criminal mischief, assault, disorderly conduct, and drug charges.