CORTEZ – Less than 24 hours after Sgt. Michael Moran was fatally shot in the line of duty, Cortez Police Chief Vernon Knuckles called it a “senseless and somber day.”
Law enforcement released new details about Wednesday’s shooting during a news conference Thursday morning in front of the Cortez Police Department, where flags flew at half-staff and about 100 people gathered for an update.
Police have not yet identified the male suspect, who died in a shootout with police.
The roadside killing occurred during a routine traffic stop about 11:25 a.m. Wednesday on South Broadway (U.S. Highway 160/491), across from the Handy Mart in southwest Cortez.
Knuckles said the traffic stop was initiated based on a reckless driving complaint.
“During that traffic stop, the suspect fired on officer Moran striking him,” Knuckles said.
Officers with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office and Cortez Police Department located the suspect a short time later at Aces Storage, less than 1½ miles from the site of the traffic stop where Moran was shot.
“The suspect engaged officers, officers fired back and eliminated the suspect at that time,” Knuckles said.
Sheriff Steve Nowlin said the suspect was located and killed “within a matter of minutes” of the traffic stop.
“The perpetrator involved in the shooting of Sgt. Moran was located and engaged in a second shooting with a deputy from the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office and an officer with the Cortez Police Department,” Nowlin said.
Moran was taken to Southwest Memorial Hospital, where he died from his injuries.
Cortez police spokeswoman Kelly Codner said she is unaware if any officers in volved in Wednesday’s shooting were placed on paid administrative leave. Officers are typically placed on paid leave or "no-contact assignment" pending officer-involved shooting investigations, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Law enforcement declined to describe a motive for the shooting, whether the transportation of drugs played a role, whether law enforcement had any prior contact with the suspect or say how many guns were involved.
They also declined to talk about Moran.
In social media posts, the police department said Moran will be remembered for his dedication and sense of humor. He served for nine years with the U.S. Marines, completing two tours in Iraq. He joined the Cortez Police Department in 2012.
He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a K-9 officer in 2016 before his dog, Otto, retired in 2020. Otto died about one month ago, according to a Montezuma County spokeswoman.
Moran had two daughters and many family and friends, according to the police department’s Facebook post.
Tom Stokley, owner of the Handy Mart gas station, across the street from where the shooting took place, said Moran was a regular customer and well known in the community.
“He was a nice guy,” said Stokley’s son, Brian Stokley.
Tom Stokley didn’t witness the shooting, but said he has learned some details from officers and acquaintances in the department.
The officer was shot in the upper torso, he said, pointing to his left shoulder.
Moran also had a female passenger in his patrol vehicle, someone who was looking to become a dispatcher and was apparently doing a ride-along, Stokley said.
“The cop had a girl riding along with him who is becoming a dispatcher,” he said. “She’s been here with the police department. She was sitting in the car, so she was the first to get to him.”
A spokeswoman for the Cortez Police Department could not immediately confirm information about the person who was with Moran.
The suspect also had a woman in his passenger seat, Stokley said.
Law enforcement clarified Thursday that only the male driver was a suspect in the case. His passenger was detained briefly and later released.
“We do not have any suspects to look for,” Nowlin said. “The community is safe, and this is what our priority was.”
The Handy Mart remained open but was essentially shut down for about seven hours, from 3:15 to 10:15 p.m., after law enforcement rerouted traffic around the scene of the shooting.
“Everybody is very, very sad,” Stokley said. “He (Moran) was well-known. He was a regular customer.”
Knuckles thanked the Sheriff’s Office and Colorado State Patrol for their assistance in bringing a quick resolution to Wednesday’s events. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is overseeing the investigation, with the assistance of the 6th and 22nd judicial districts.
The Cortez Police Department is working with the Fallen Heroes Foundation to set up a fund if members of the public want to donate money to help Moran’s family. He cautioned people not to donate to other social media funds that may not have a direct link with Moran’s family.
A candlelight vigil is being organized for 5 p.m. Thursday in front of the Cortez Police Department at 608 N. Park St.