Was Marvin Heemeyer a hero? A patriot? In certain circles, 4 June marks the anniversary of "Killdozer Day," a 2004 rampage in the city of Granby, Colorado, that damaged more than a dozen buildings and left one person (Heemeyer) dead.
A viral Facebook post explains why some people feel that Heemeyer was a folk hero:
The story as related above is largely accurate. Marvin Heemeyer did use a "killdozer" to exact revenge on the city of Granby, Colorado, after a concrete factory was allowed to be built across the street from his muffler shop:
However, this text omits a few key details in order to paint Heemeyer as the "last great American folk hero."
Many people considered Heemeyer to be a the victim of a careless and indifferent government that approved the construction of a concrete factory with no regard to how it would affect Heemeyer's business at the muffler shop. Although there is some truth to this argument, it doesn't tell the entire story.
In 1992, before the city rezoned the land to allow the construction of a concrete factory, Heemeyer was offered $250,000 for his land. Heemeyer initially agreed to sell the land to the Docheff family, but then backed out of the deal out after asking for more:
The story of the batch plant also goes back to 1992, three years after Heemeyer had moved to the area. Heemeyer bought his two acres from the Resolution Trust Corp., the federal agency set up to handle the assets of failed savings and loan institutions. He bought the two acres for $42,000 but later agreed to sell it to the Docheff family, which wanted the property for a concrete batch plant, for $250,000. They agreed, but then he wanted $375,000 and at some later point wanted a deal worth approximately $1 million. All of this was well before the rezoning proposal hit town hall.
"I just think he set things up to the point where you would have to say no.'" said Susie Docheff in an interview with the Sky-Hi News. "He probably set you up to say no' just so he could get mad at you."
Nobody was killed during the rampage. However, Heemeyer was armed, fired at propane tanks, and destroyed buildings that were occupied in the moments before the attack.
According to the "folk hero" version of Killdozer Day, Heemeyer only attacked buildings, not people, owned by those who had done him wrong, and made an effort not to harm any of the town's general population or property. Although it's true that nobody, other than Heemeyer, was killed during the incident, it wasn't from lack of trying. The sheriff's department argued that the town was lucky that nobody was killed, considering that eleven of the 13 buildings were occupied moments before they were destroyed by the "killdozer".
Heemeyer's homemade tank also had two gunports which he allegedly used to shoot at power transformers and propane tanks:
Meanwhile, early defenders of Heemeyer contended he made a point of not hurting anybody during his bulldozer rampage. But the sheriff's department argues that the fact nobody got hurt was more luck than intent. He fired many bullets from his semi-automatic rifle at Cody Docheff when Docheff tried to stop the assault on his concrete batch plant by using a front-end loader. Later, Heemeyer fired on two state troopers before they had fired.
Heemeyer also fired 15 bullets from his .50-BMG rifle at power transformers and propane tanks. "Had these tanks ruptured and exploded, anyone within one-half mile of the explosion could have been endangered," said the sheriff's department. That included 12 police officers and residents of a senior citizens complex.
As well, the sheriff notes that 11 of the 13 buildings that Heemeyer bulldozed were occupied until just moments before the destruction. At the town library, for example, a children's program was in progress when the incident began.
Here's an image of one of the gunports inside of the killdozer:
Investigators also found a list Heemeyer had written before the attack. Although this list did not carry a label such as "targets" or "enemies," it did list thirteen of the buildings that were damaged by his bulldozer. In addition to the properties, Heemeyer also listed several names, including the mayor and several local business owners.
Did all the victims "deserve" their punishment?
Another argument for Heemeyer's folk hero status is that he only targeted those who had wronged him. And it's true that a few names on this list were obvious adversaries, such as the town hall, which was responsible for rezoning the land surrounding his property. However, some of Heemeyer's other victims are harder to justify. He destroyed a library, which was connected to the town hall, and the former home of Mayor L.R. "Dick" Thompson. Thompson served as mayor when Heemeyer's fight with the city began but passed away in 2001, three years before the rampage. Thompson's 82-year-old widow Thelma Thompson was living at the home when it was destroyed.
Heemeyer also destroyed patrol cars, service trucks, and at least one pickup truck. In total, he did about $7 million worth of damage. Casey Farrell, the owner of a hardware store that was destroyed by Heemeyer, said that it took him more than seven years to rebuild, and that Heemeyer's rampage took more than a financial toll on the town:
First, he rammed the home of the mayor and the town hall and library. Then, he set out more randomly to avenge the wrongs he had perceived. In the case of the local newspaper, the Sky Hi News, the editor who had always run his letters of complaint ran out the back door as Heemeyer’s bulldozer crashed through the front.
Nobody died, except Heemeyer, who put a gun to his own head after his lumbering bulldozer fell into the basement of the Gambles store. Others could easily have died, though.
The Gambles store has been rebuilt, but it took seven years for Casey Farrell, the owner, to do so. “My world just turned upside down,” he told the Sky-Hi on the 10th anniversary. “But I thought ‘Well OK, we’ve got insurance.’ We did. Just not enough.”
Gambles had been a hardware store with five employees. Now it’s an appliance and mattress store with two employees.
But beyond the physical changes, there’s a mental change in the minds of Farrell – and others.
“It’s not that I don’t feel safe, but it’s changed the way that you look at people, at stuff,” he said. “I don’t know how to put it into words, really.”
Another version of Heemeyer's story.
One could argue that Marvin Heemeyer was treated unfairly by the government, that he was run out of business by a larger company, and that what he did on "Killdozer Day" was simply what every other "little guy" dreamed of doing after getting pushed down by "the man". In this view, Heemeyer is a hero.
But there is another way of looking at the events of 4 June 2004.
Marvin Heemeyer built a tank and destroyed thirteen buildings (including a library which was occupied by children moments before the walls came down, and the home of an 82-year-old widow) simply because he lost a zoning dispute. He endangered the lives of the police officers, destroyed several emergency vehicles, and could have killed several innocent civilians if it wasn't for the actions of law enforcement who managed to evacuate buildings before they were destroyed.
He was armed with several weapons, attempted to shoot at least one civilian, and fired several shots at propane tanks in an attempt to create an explosion. Heemeyer spent more than a year building his "killdozer" and planning his attack on the town of Granby, an act he felt was in accordance with God's will:
"God blessed me in advance for the task that I am about to undertake. It is my duty. God has asked me to do this. It's a cross that I am going to carry and I'm carrying it in God's name."
The town of Granby still hasn't fully recovered from Heemeyer's vengeful and dangerous attack. Patrick Brower, an editor who worked at the newsroom destroyed by Heemeyer, argued that he should not be held up as a hero, folk or otherwise:
"I’ve seen that the way people have venerated Marv and praised him after the fact -- without even really knowing what happened or the facts of the situation -- has been repeated in many other rampages and tragedies in America since then,” he says.
"How many people lose petty zoning fights with government in America? Everybody, all the time. That’s not an excuse to go out and tear the town to pieces and shoot at people.”
The story of Marvin Heemeyer and his "killdozer" is absolutely true. It's up to you, however, to decide if he should be hailed as hero.