Police: Berea shooting victims had helped man fighting with suspect

gkocher1@herald-leader.com, jhewlett@herald-leader.com, jkegley@herald-leader.comNovember 22, 2011 

BEREA — A former Berea College public safety officer and Army veteran suspected in a double shooting in Berea Monday morning had recently been accused of violence by his second wife and had other run-ins with the law, court records show.

But the most significant charges facing the war veteran are a result of Monday's violent outburst that terrorized Berea much of the day.

Nearly seven hours after a man was found dead and another was wounded in Berea, Matthew Denholm, 27, was arrested about 1:30 p.m. by police in Jeffersontown, an eastern suburb of Louisville. Warrants were issued for Denholm, charging him with murder, first-degree assault and burglary, said Capt. Ken Clark, Berea police spokesman.

Denholm was apprehended after a brief standoff, Clark said. Denholm had two people with him in a vehicle until a relative talked to him by cellphone and persuaded him to let them go.

The shooting and search for Denholm disrupted thousands. Berea College, Berea schools and some Madison County schools were locked or shut down for hours after the shooting was discovered in an apartment at 301 Chestnut Street, across the street from Berea City Hall and next to Berea College.

Shortly after 7 a.m., police received a report of shots fired. Not long after, police named Denholm a suspect, calling him dangerous and warning that he might have high-powered rifles, handguns and tactical equipment such as a bulletproof vest.

Zackary Flower, 25, was killed in the shooting, Madison County Coroner Jimmy Cornelison said Monday afternoon. The injured victim's name wasn't released by authorities but a former tenant identified him as Kevin Price, one of Flower's two roommates. The survivor was treated at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital in Lexington.

Jeffersontown Police Chief Rick Sanders said police received a tip that Denholm might be in the area Monday afternoon. Officers searching for Denholm, who was expected to be in a Pontiac Grand Prix, spotted him instead in a black Chevrolet Monte Carlo with Madison County plates in a shopping center on Hurstbourne Parkway.

Police from Jeffersontown and Louisville stopped and surrounded the car on nearby Shelbyville Road.

Two other people were in the car with him. Ryan Denholm, Matt Denholm's brother, and Berea resident Sherry Bratten got out of the car once it was surrounded. Matt Denholm refused to get out for about five to 10 minutes, police said. He eventually surrendered without incident.

Sanders said police saw a gun — possibly a shotgun — in the vehicle with Denholm, who kept "reaching down" into the car, apparently to get a cigarette.

"The officers showed great restraint by not getting into a gunfight with him," he said.

Losing a fight on Sunday night had allegedly led to Monday's shooting, Clark said. Denholm was fighting with a man in the apartment building's parking lot when Flower and Price intervened on the unidentified man's behalf, Clark said. Denholm vowed to return. When he did, he shot both of them, police said.

Flower, Price and Marcus Leslie were members of a local rap group called Strange Tang, said Rae Hartley, 19, a Berea College junior who lived across from the roommates for about four months.

Hartley and Terra Cash, 17, a home-schooled resident of Berea, put flowers on the steps of the apartment building Monday afternoon.

"We just wanted to put some flowers there for anyone who lives in the building, just to say we're thinking of them," Cash said. "It's really sad for everyone who lives in Berea. It's kind of like a slap in the face by reality. This happens in other places but we just don't expect it here."

Cash said she knew Flower, but not well. "He was a nice guy, a really wonderful person. It sucks that he's gone but at the same time I'm really glad ... everyone else in the building is okay. ...No one expects anything like this, but especially not in little Berea."

Cash said she'd met Denholm a few times when he was a public safety officer at Berea College.

"I can't believe he snapped like that," Cash said.

Denholm worked at Berea College from November 2010 to March 2011, said the college's public relations director, Tim Jordan. Before his stint at the college, Denholm worked as a security guard at Blue Grass Army Depot.

Court records showed that Denholm served in the Army in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2008.

Frank Denholm, Matt Denholm's great uncle, said Matt Denholm joined the Army after graduating from high school in Brookings, S.D.

Frank Denholm, a former U.S. congressman, said his nephew served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Army, disarming roadside bombs. He said he thought Matt Denholm was honorably discharged from the Army, and that his work in Afghanistan — also disarming bombs — was with a private security firm.

Frank Denholm said he didn't know his nephew that well, and he hadn't seen him in a couple years, since he returned from Afghanistan. He said he was under the impression that Matt Denholm had moved to Kentucky or Tennessee to be closer to a girlfriend and to attend school.

"He was anxious to get an education," he said. "From what I understand, I think he did pretty well in the service."

But Matt Denholm had a recent history of turmoil. In May, Denholm was charged with second-degree wanton endangerment and fourth-degree assault in Madison County after he allegedly grabbed his second wife, Sarah, by the throat and choked her as she was nursing their year-old son.

In a domestic violence petition filed in Madison County, Sarah Denholm said Matt Denholm also grabbed her jawbone, "saying he would break it."

"The baby was trying to get out from between us and he (Matt) was pushing his knee into the baby's back saying I can't use the baby as a shield," Sarah Denholm said in the petition.

Matt Denholm, who had been drinking, eventually let his wife get up from the couch, and she left their Berea apartment with the baby, according to the petition.

The wanton endangerment charge was dismissed in June, and the assault charge was amended to harassment, according to Madison District Court records.

A 60-day sentence on the harassment charge was conditionally discharged as long as Matt Denholm had no other criminal offenses and followed the conditions of a domestic violence order that Sarah Denholm received in June. The order was in effect until 2014.

Sarah Denholm filed for divorce in June; the case is pending in Madison Circuit Court.

An undated note in a domestic violence file in Madison Family Court said: "The FBI called and made us aware Mr. Denholm has attempted to purchase a handgun."

More trouble followed. Matt Denholm was indicted Nov. 14 by a Fayette County grand jury in connection with a Sept. 19 incident in which he allegedly took a victim's $120 item, possibly a KA-BAR military knife, and used it to damage the interior and exterior of the victim's car, causing $1,000 or more in damage. The victim, J. Weigel, was a friend of Denholm's, according to court records.

Denholm was due in Fayette Circuit Court Dec. 2 for arraignment on charges of felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor theft by unlawful taking under $500. He also was cited for alcohol intoxication in a public place.

He was released from jail after $350 of a $3,500 bond was posted.

A note included in court files Oct. 21 said Denholm had a new address as an in-patient for alcohol rehabilitation at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Lexington.

The building at the center of Monday's Berea shooting has an attorney's office and apartments upstairs and in a basement. The shooting happened in an upstairs apartment, Clark said.

The building is next to Berea College, which suspended classes and work and advised everyone to stay indoors. A lockdown was lifted about 1:50 p.m.

With Denholm in custody Monday afternoon, lockdowns were lifted at Madison County and Berea Independent schools. Conditions can vary during school lockdowns, but generally entry and exit are prevented, doors are secured and students stay in classrooms.

"We've been working with Berea police all morning in an effort to be cautious and keep our kids safe," Madison district spokeswoman Erin Stewart said Monday while five schools — Madison Southern High School, Foley Middle School, Farristown Middle School, Shannon Johnson Elementary School and Silver Creek Elementary School — were secured. The school system first got word of the shooting about 8 a.m. and the lockdown started about 9 a.m. for about 3,000 students.

The Berea district, which has about 1,100 students in grades preschool through 12, was on lockdown from about 8:15 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.

"Our staff is doing a fantastic job of being flexible and doing what needs to be done," said Superintendent Mike Hogg.

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