Three Bullets to the Back

The Striking Silence Around a Police Killing in Small-town Colorado

About the Project

“Three Bullets to the Back” is a deep investigative and narrative look at the April 2020 police shooting of Zach Gifford, which rattled rural Kiowa County more than any incident in decades, yet about which local officials and residents have stayed strikingly silent.

In the era of George Floyd and Elijah McClain, the story is also of broader significance, laying bare a common reluctance among small communities to hold their own law enforcers accountable for acts of violence that could have been avoided.

Gifford’s parents, Carla and Larry – who weren’t getting answers about their son’s killing from county officials – see the story as a step toward transparency and justice. And members of the community say the collaboration between a local reporter and the Colorado News Collaborative triggered long-delayed public calls for more accountability in their sheriff’s department.

Collaborative Partners

Inside COLab

Colorado's Quietest Police Killing

Dear reader,  The people of Kiowa County woke Wednesday morning to an edition of their…

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Stonewalled: Kiowa County Sheriffs Won’t Explain Why They Killed Zach Gifford

Dear reader, Brandon, population 21, lies three hours southeast of Denver. It’s a speck of a…

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Three Bullets to the Back

Susan Greene is a reporter, editor and coach for the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab). She was editor and executive director of The Colorado Independent and a longtime reporter and columnist at The Denver Post. Susan has been honored by the National Press Foundation, ACLU, Society of Professional Journalists and Colorado Press Association for her First Amendment work and coverage of criminal justice, mental health and civil rights. She was selected as a 2020-2021 Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow, and is the inaugural recipient of the Benjamin von Sternenfels Rosenthal Grant for Mental Health Investigative Journalism. Read more of Susan’s work.

Priscilla Waggoner is currently a reporter at the Valley Courier in Alamosa. Prior to that, she was the editor of the Kiowa County Independent on the southeastern plains for five years. In addition to working over the years in a variety of positions at a handful of publications in Colorado, Waggoner worked as a professional screenwriter and was the recipient of the Nicholls Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. She currently lives in the San Luis Valley with her family — two dogs, Abbott and Bailey, and her horse, Cisco.

This project was made possible through unprecedented collaboration between dozens of newsrooms and journalists across the state, who are active partners in the Colorado News Collaborative, or COLab.

To support the statewide effort, donate to the Colorado News Collaborative.