How uncovering a small Colorado town’s hushed secret led to redemption and reconciliation in Rangely

Colorado Media Project: One cold December evening, a year after a police officer killed a mentally-ill man in the northwest Colorado town of Rangely, the dead man’s wife sat next to the officer and forgave him — wishing him peace of mind and absolving him of the guilt that had plagued him since the shooting.

To many of the 35 town residents and officials seated around a rectangular array of tables and against the walls in the windowless conference room, it was a cathartic moment. Around the room, people wiped away tears. It was almost as if the room itself exhaled. The shooting had happened a year earlier, and had been the subject of much gossip but precious little official information.

This extraordinary community meeting came about because Niki Turner, editor and owner of the local newspaper, the Rio Blanco Herald Times, had been stymied by town officials when she tried to learn about the shooting and official investigations into it. So she reached out to Susan Greene, editor of the Colorado Independent, a Denver-based nonprofit news organization. Turner had never come across a story of this magnitude, and was seeking help reporting the complex and nuanced issues surrounding the shooting and its aftermath that town officials were trying to keep hushed.

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