More than a month after he pleaded not guilty, a former CSU janitor confessed to the Collegian that he recently sent a threatening e-mail to the father of a student killed in the 1999 Columbine High School Massacre.
“I just want to go in and say I’m guilty,” Darren Morrison, who is set to appear in court Tuesday, told the Collegian last week. “Whatever the judge says, I deserve it, and I’ll just take it. I can be a real jerk when I get on the Internet.”
Morrison is charged with harassment, a class three misdemeanor, and is set to appear in Jefferson County Court Tuesday. If convicted, Morrison, 45, could spend up to six months in jail and pay a fine of up to $750.
Morrison sent the e-mail in December to Tom Mauser, a gun control activist who lost his son, Daniel, in the shootings at Columbine High School, where gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.
In a videotaped interview with Collegian reporters last week, Morrison confessed to sending the e-mail that spoke of violence with a .50-caliber handgun – a gun powerful enough to shoot an airplane from the sky.
Mauser, who was featured in Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning documentary about gun control, “Bowling for Columbine,” has seen his fair share of death threats.
But Mauser says the e-mail sent by Morrison – who posed as a well-known guns rights activist – was especially frightening.
“It was very upsetting,” Mauser said. “You never know when one of these folks might go off with a gun.”
In the e-mail, Morrison posed as Duncan Philp, 50, a CSU alum and prominent gun rights advocate who has a turbulent history with the Mauser family.
With guns drawn, FBI agents and police approached Philp on December 15 in a parking lot.
“These guys are pointing guns at me, and I didn’t do anything wrong,” Philp told the Collegian earlier this month. “When people point guns at me and you post this kind of crap on the Internet, that’s b.s. he screwed up.”
After being cleared of any wrongdoing, Philp pointed investigators to Morrison, who had worked as a custodian in Parmelee Hall for the better part of a decade.
“I just didn’t think things through,” the Fort Collins resident said. “I hit the send button, and it was too late. it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done.”
Morrison admits to sending the threatening e-mail, but says there’s more to the story.
Guns, threats and heartbreak
In the wake of the eighth anniversary of the Columbine shootings and the Virginia Tech massacre that claimed the lives of 32 people, Morrison says his conscience is heavy.
But his past will continue to haunt him as he approaches a trial.
Holding back tears, Morrison said he sent the threatening e-mail to protect his family from a long-time enemy and staunch gun rights activist – Philp – who Morrison says threatened his life on an Internet forum.
In a detailed e-mail apology, Morrison tells the father of a Columbine victim, who also has a long history with Philp, that he sent the e-mails not to hurt the Mauser family, but to protect his own family.
“It was very wrong and distasteful, what I had done. I did not intend to hurt you, only Duncan (Philp), but in my anger I did not think my actions through,” the e-mail said.
The e-mail goes on to chronicle what Morrison now calls a “childish” exchange of threatening e-mails and posts.
Morrison and Philp, once fellow gun rights activists, had a falling out years ago at a second amendment rally in Denver. Since then, the two have had numerous spats on different chat sites and forums. And both admit to heated exchanges on the Internet, including an exchange on the comments section of the Collegian Web site, collegian.com.
Morrison alleges that Philp eventually posted a death threat on a site both subscribed to.
Then, Morrison says he did what he thought was necessary to protect his family.
Posing as Philp, Morrison set up an almost identical e-mail account and sent the threatening e-mails to the father of Columbine victim Daniel Mauser.
“I wasn’t thinking all the way through. I was thinking about getting the feds or police after Duncan (Philp),” Morrison said. “I wasn’t thinking about the other side; I didn’t think about what it would do to Tom and his family.”
But Philp says he never threatened Morrison.
“The guy’s not there,” Philp said. “If you want to sit down and talk to me, I’m always willing talk. If you don’t agree with me, I’m not going to threaten to kill you.”
Philp, who identifies himself as “a political agitator,” is notorious for organizing demonstrations and protests in the name of gun rights, including at least one outside of Mauser’s Littleton home.
He’s caused a little commotion on the CSU campus, too.
Dell Rae Moellenberg, a CSU spokeswoman, said Philp has “a history” with the CSU Police Department.
“I had a lot of run-ins with CSUPD over political ideologies,” Philp said of his stay at CSU, which lasted from 1993 to 2000, when he graduated with a degree in political science.
Philp says he’s bragged to Mauser about purchasing a .50-caliber handgun after winning a 2003 lawsuit in Jefferson County, after police illegally stopped him from protesting outside of Mauser’s home.
So, keeping in mind Philp’s tumultuous history with Mauser and law enforcement, Morrison said he sent the e-mails to get Philp – the obvious suspect – arrested.
And he almost succeeded.
“The Deputy looked like he was freaking out. He was shaking,” Philp said of his recent run-in with law enforcement. “I became incensed by this sort of police mentality of pointing guns at people, especially when they’re innocent.”
The Collegian obtained raw video from a police squad car, which shows Philp in a rage as FBI agents and police approached him on the Laramie Community College campus, where Philp was attending classes.
“The deputy flashed his shiny little badge at me, and I told him what to do with it,” Philp told the Collegian, adding that what he told the officer wasn’t appropriate to repeat.
FBI documents show that Philp, once a suspect, became a victim in the investigation.
“It is complicated, and there’s so much involved,” Philp said. “This guy’s a janitor who’s worked at CSU for 10 years, sucking up my tax dollars, and he dumps on me. I don’t like it. I don’t need this kind of crap.”
A Colorado courts database and federal courts database search shows Philp has two restraining orders filed against him, including one filed by Morrison last March.
Morrison says he was “a little bit at ease” after hearing Philp was nearly arrested, but says he didn’t think about how the threats would affect Mauser and his family.
“If I would have thought things through, I wouldn’t have done it,” the ex-janitor said. “I’ve been beating myself up everyday for four months.”
Making it right
What Morrison saw as a way to get a long-time foe in legal trouble soon spawned an FBI investigation, which eventually led agents and police to CSU.
“I wish I could go back in time and undo my wrong to you. If there is anything you want me to do, I will,” Morrison said in an e-mail to Mauser. “I am a family man myself. I could never have done the great things you have if what happened to you happened to me.”
While Mauser says he is “an overly trusting guy,” he says that’s no excuse for the fear and pain his family went through.
“I want Darren to understand what the impact of this is,” Mauser said.
Although Mauser said he is not ready to talk with Morrison about the threats just yet, adding that the anniversary of the Columbine shootings and the recent massacre on the Virginia Tech campus had taken a toll on his family, he did respond to Morrison’s e-mail.
Mauser calls the threats “despicable” and says he was forced to tell security personnel at his work to be on the lookout for a gun-toting madman, which he found embarrassing.
But he did also level with Morrison.
“I appreciate your statement of remorse. I appreciate that you spoke against Philp’s plan to protest my house. I appreciate that you’ve acknowledged the terrible and stupid mistakes you made,” the e-mail said.
Morrison is set to face trial after a pre-trial hearing this week. Once in front of the judge, Morrison says he will plead guilty, despite his initial plea of “not guilty” in March.
“I just want to go on with my life,” Morrison said. “No matter what the court does, I still owe a debt to Tom. Anything he wants I would do for him. I would bend over backwards for him, if he wanted me to.”
Both victims of the threats said they intend to show up at the court proceedings.
Moellenberg and other CSU officials said they are unable to confirm that the e-mails were sent from a CSU computer because the e-mail was sent from a private account, which is not public record.
Morrison said he isn’t sure if he sent the e-mail from home or from a CSU computer, but said he gave his computer away, in hopes that he can move on.
“I’d like to apologize to (Mauser’s) face and be a man,” he said. “I could say I’m sorry 100 times, but it’s not going to be good enough.”
Senior reporter Emily Polak contributed to this report.
Associate news managing editor J. David McSwane and senior reporter Emily Polak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.