GREAT FALLS — A public vigil is being planned to remember the three people who were killed during an armed robbery in Great Falls early Tuesday. The three victims were Cheryl Ann Larson, 53 years old; Wendy Joanne Carlson, 60; and Steve Mitchell Hale, 61.
The vigil is being organized by Brittney Williams, Michelle Brandt, and Kayla Dutton. It will be at the Amigo Lounge (1200 7th Street South) on Friday, December 20, at 7pm. Williams told KRTV that they are doing this so that "our community can come together and show our respect for those who left us far too soon in such a horrific event."
Brittney told KRTV that the vigil will begin at 7 p.m., but if anyone would like to come help, organizers will be at the Amigo Lounge at around 5:30 to start setting up. The vigil will be at the north-side parking lot of the Amigo Lounge, and she said the kind people at the Labor Temple have graciously lent us their parking lot for a safer and more convenient parking for the supporters who will be attending. Brittney thanked everyone who has been such a big helping hand in organizing the vigil.
The owners of Emerald City Casino provided MTN News with the following statement on Thursday afternoon: “First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, our employees and everyone involved in the community. An investigation is ongoing and we are participating fully with all agencies involved. At this time, we would like to thank the community and our industry for the ongoing prayers and support that we have received. Please respect the privacy of the family members including all staff members and employees of Emerald City.”
The victims: Three people, all from the Great Falls area, were killed. Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter released their names on Wednesday: Cheryl Ann Larson, 53 years old; Wendy Joanne Carlson, 60; and Steve Mitchell Hale, 61. A family member told KRTV that Wendy was an employee on-duty at the time. We do not yet know if the others were employees or customers; we are still working to get more details.
A fourth person, Timothy Edwards, was also shot, and survived. He remains hospitalized at Benefis Health System, and is expected to recover. A family member created a GoFundMe account , which states: "He is a father of four and a husband. He was shot point blank in the back of the head. He moved his head just in time for the bullet to go through his face!"
The suspect: Ricky Lee Gardipee has been identified as the suspect. Court documents filed in connection with Amanda Lynn Gilbreath (see below) state that between 1:40 a.m. and 5:45 a.m., Gardipee was "involved in a number of criminal acts, including a robbery and triple homicide." Petroleum County Coroner RJ Brown released the name on Wednesday morning. Gardipee, 41 years old, was shot by Deputy U.S. Marshals on 26th Street South near 7th Avenue South at about 5:40 a.m. His body was taken to the Montana Crime Lab in Billings for autopsy. According to the Montana Department of Corrections, Gardipee had a lengthy criminal record, with convictions in Cascade County and Lewis & Clark County for robbery, theft, burglary, assault on a peace officer, forgery, criminal possession of dangerous drugs, and failure to register as a violent offender.
The crime: A 911 call just after 2 a.m. requested emergency medical assistance at the Emerald Casino at 1701 10th Avenue South; a person was said to be bleeding from his face. When police officers and paramedics arrived, they found three people dead inside. A fourth victim was identified a short time later at Benefis Health System; that person is said to be recovering from a gunshot wound. There is no word yet on when or how he arrived at the hospital. Police immediately began searching for the suspect, and at about 5:45 a.m., they found the suspect in the area of 7th Avenue South and 26th Street; the GFPD said that shots were fired, and the suspect - who was armed - was shot and killed by law enforcement officers. Agencies involved in the hours-long search for the suspect included the Great Falls Police Department, the Cascade County Sheriff's Office, the US Marshals Service, Montana Probation & Parole, and the FBI.
The investigation: Amanda Lynn Gilbreath and Johnny Anthony Komeotis are facing criminal charges in Great Falls in connection with the investigation into the murders at the Emerald City Casino.
Gilbreath has been charged with obstructing justice (felony). According to court documents, Gilbreath was known to be in a relationship with Gardipee. The court documents state that on Monday, December 16 (the day before the murders) police officers saw a vehicle that belonged to Gardipee. Gardipee had been in several high-speed chases with officers recently using that vehicle. The officers saw two women drive away from the residence in the vehicle. Officers stopped the vehicle, and Gilbreath was inside. She agreed to allow them to look for Gardipee in the residence, but he was not there. Officers then asked her if she knew where Gardipee was, and she "became very evasive and said she had not seen him since Friday December 13." She denied having any contact with Gardipee recently.
The next day, after what court documents refer to as a "robbery and triple homicide," Gilbreath was questioned about the crimes. She admitted that the had seen Gardipee numerous times, including twice at her residence, including the day before when she told officers that she had no idea where he was. The court documents state that Gilbreath had been advised "on numerous occasions" of Gardipee's warrant, and that she could be charged with obstructing justice if she harbored him or concealed his whereabouts from authorities.
A probable cause affidavit states: "...she had knowledge of Gardipee's whereabouts on multiple occasions which could have resulted in his apprehension but instead she harbored, protected and provided aid to Gardipee." Court documents also note that Gilbreath has a conviction for robbery in 2004.
Komeotis has been charged with tampering with physical evidence (felony) and resisting arrest (misdemeanor). Court documents state that officers were preparing to serve a search warrant at a residence on Tuesday several hours after the murders. They talked to Komeotis at the residence and told him he needed to leave so they could search the apartment. Komeotis reportedly was confrontational and yelled profanities at the officers, but eventually stepped outside and walked about 15 feet away.
Komeotis then took out his cell phone and began recording the officers. An officer told Komeotis they were going to have to take his phone as evidence due to his recording; he yelled that they would not take it, and then broke the phone in half with his hands.
Court documents say the officers then went to take him into custody for destroying evidence, and he reportedly pulled away and used force to avoid being handcuffed. Eventually officers were able to take him into custody. Komeotis' criminal history includes robbery, criminal mischief, assault, disorderly conduct, and drug charges.