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After bulldozer rampage, town strives to rebuild trust

Attack inspires renewal in Colo.

GRANBY, Colo. -- To the casual observer, the signs of Marvin Heemeyer's bulldozer rampage -- the leveled buildings, toppled trees, and gouged earth -- have all but disappeared.

There are a few more lots than usual under construction, and there is plenty of talk about "moving on" and "coming out better than before" in this blue-collar ranching town of 1,500 near some of Colorado's most spectacular wilderness and recreational areas.

But in his suicidal rage, Heemeyer, a 56-year-old muffler repairman, destroyed something less tangible than buildings, and much harder to rebuild.

"People are not as trusting," said Casey Farrell, whose hardware store, Gambles, was ruined on June 4 when a heavily-armed Heemeyer sealed himself inside his 60-ton bulldozer and vented his anger over a local zoning issue by destroying or damaging 13 buildings. "It tended to harden people."

"Granby will have to find a new normal," agreed Farrell's wife, Rhonda, as the couple sat in a commercial space they have leased for a pared-down version of their former business. "This changed the face of our town forever."

The Farrells learned too late they were insured for less than half the $940,000 value of their business. They cannot afford to rebuild the store, which had been part of Granby for 53 years.

In less than two hours, the dozer attack caused $5 million in damage. Heemeyer fatally shot himself after his 30-foot-long Komatsu D355-A dozer would go no further.

No one else was injured.

An accomplished welder, Heemeyer sealed himself into his cement and steel cocoon to carry out what he described, on tapes found later, as God's will. Three rifles were mounted on the bulldozer, and a Tec-9 semiautomatic machine gun was found inside the cab. Seven cameras linked to three video monitors on the dashboard helped him navigate.

Heemeyer was particularly aggrieved by a zoning dispute that allowed a cement batch plant to expand near his shop. Like many of his targets, Farrell was a town council member who supported the expansion.

"He had his reasons," said Carol Mauerman, a waitress at the Columbine Cafe, which has deer, elk, and bear heads and yellowed photos of mountain vistas on its wood-paneled walls. "He got tired of fighting the system. I don't know if I would have handled it that way."

Websites sprung up celebrating Heemeyer as a folk hero and patriot.

"There's a streak that runs through people up here that's rebellious," said Phil McGinn, 56, of nearby Grand Lake. "Everyone should have a good healthy dose of antigovernment."

The 13-foot-high dozer is covered by a tarp on a fenced lot outside town. Several people have pushed to make it a tourist attraction, but most want to see it dismantled. Granby Mayor Ted Wang wants to see it "turned into razor blades."

"The town's position is we don't want to commemorate this thing," Wang said.

Despite any grievances against town officials, area residents have pulled together in an unprecedented way after Heemeyer's rampage. Even McGinn, who was in Heemeyer's corner initially, changed his mind about the rampage after hearing about children being evacuated from the library as Heemeyer approached.

A community relief fund has accumulated $200,000; $46,000 of it has been distributed. Community organizers are selling T-shirts with a picture of a bulldozer with an "X" through it. A calendar featuring photos of provocatively dressed women was about to hit stores. Of the $20 sale price, a portion would go to the fund.

"People pitched in everywhere," said Amanda Feighner, 42, who posed as Miss December.

"Because it's a small town, you know these people. We live kind of in a fishbowl. Even rival businesses stopped doing business for a day out of respect for the other ones."

The outpouring of support humbled Wang, who said Heemeyer unwittingly accelerated a plan to rejuvenate the town's core. The plan calls for making Granby more friendly to pedestrians, sprucing up facades, planting flowers, and hanging banners. The goal is to rebuild the town in time for Granby's centennial Dec. 11, 2005.

"The town's going to come back better and stronger than it was before Heemeyer took his drive," Wang said. "That's going to be the sweetest revenge of all."

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