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Couple in murder-suicide acted alone, weren't welcomed at Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall, police say

Melissa Apodaca was shot and killed by her husband, Enoch Apodaca, who then killed himself Sunday morning in Thornton.

THORNTON, Colo — The husband and wife involved in a murder-suicide Sunday morning at a Jehovah's Witness hall in Thornton first went to a business in unincorporated Adams County where an explosion was reported shortly afterward, Thornton Police said on Wednesday.

Then they went to the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in Thornton, located at 951 Milky Way, where the husband threw three explosive devices through a window before he fatally shot his wife and himself, police said in a news release that included more details on the incident.

Police identified the people involved as 46-year-old Enoch Apodaca and 44-year-old Melissa Apodaca. Police said they think the two acted alone. They were married and were former members of the Kingdom Hall congregation who were no longer welcomed.

The night before the incident, Enoch Apodaca had told a Kingdom Hall member he was interested in returning and was directed to speak with Kingdom Hall elders, police said.

The explosion in the 5600 block of Logan Street and the murder-suicide at Kingdom Hall appeared to be the result of personal issues Enoch Apodaca had with a former employer a year before and the couple's issues with Kingdom Hall, police said.

Court filings obtained by 9NEWS showed that Enoch Apodaca had threatened to shoot his wife and former co-workers about a year before the violence on Christmas morning. 

Thornton Police on Wednesday released a more detailed timeline of the incidents Christmas morning:

About 8:45 a.m., Enoch Apodaca entered a business in the 5600 block of Logan Street with what appeared to be a bucket. He walked back out soon after, and there was a large explosion.

The business was closed at the time and no one was injured, police said.

About 9 a.m., Thornton Police responded to a call at Kingdom Hall on a report of a structure fire and shooting.

The investigation showed that Enoch Apodaca directed his wife to back up their pickup to the building just below a window. He broke the window with a hammer and threw in three "pipe-bomb-in-nature" devices.

Melissa Apodaca got out of the pickup, and her husband shot her in the back of the head. Then he shot himself with the same shotgun, police said.

None of the explosive devices thrown into Kingdom Hall detonated, but one of them nearly detonated before it was either extinguished or malfunctioned. The device was attached to a bucket similar to the one used in the explosion on Logan Street, police said.

At the time, there were only two people inside the Kingdom Hall. One of those people used a fire extinguisher to put out a fire that appeared to start near one of the explosive devices, police said.

Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas, but the Sherrelwood congregation's regular Sunday meeting was set to begin at 9:30 a.m.

Thornton Police spokesperson Joe Walker said that as the incident was unfolding, a small number of people arrived at the hall for the 9:30 a.m. gathering. Those witnesses were interviewed as part of the investigation.

After the incidents, investigators executed a search warrant at the Apodacas' residence in the 8600 block of Zuni Street in Westminster and found items used to make explosives similar to those found in Kingdom Hall. There were no additional devices found, police said.

Also in the residence, investigators found personal belongings that had been set out and clearly marked to be distributed to specific family members.

Tawni Ansel, who lives across the street, said she was wrapping a final few Christmas presents on Sunday when she heard what sounded like arguing.

"I opened the front door and I didn't see anybody," she told 9Wants to Know. "I went back inside, shut the door. And then I heard more arguing -- then we heard glass break, and then I heard, like, a big bang, and a couple seconds later I heard another big bang."

She said when he looked out again, she could see the man, apparently dead, on the northwest side of the parking lot. A gun lay near his body.

Ansel said what happened didn't surprise her -- but where it happened did.

"They're really nice people," she said. "They're really humble."

Multiple agencies responded, including the Adams County Sheriff's Office and Thornton Fire Department.

The Sherrelwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses released a statement Sunday afternoon:

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the unprovoked attack and loss of life at our Kingdom Hall in Thornton. We are cooperating with the authorities as they carry out their investigation into the event. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of those who have been traumatized by the heinous actions that took the life of an innocent victim and threatened the lives of many others. We are praying for the families of all those affected.” 

Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann also released a statement about the violent act:

“The Thornton City Council and myself are saddened by the violent actions that took two lives in our city. This kind of violence is always shocking but particularly on Christmas Day. We understand the Thornton Police Department is in the early stages of the investigation and we will learn more in the days to come. For now, our hope is that we all can take time to focus on those we love and find a way to hold them close today.”

A spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mark Cordova, said he could not provide any further information.

There were no further concerns for the safety of the Thornton community, police said.

Credit: KUSA
Emergency personnel respond to a homicide at the Thornton Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall on Sunday.

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