15 Law Enforcement Officers Murdered By Domestic Extremists Since the Oklahoma City Bombing
Since the Oklahoma City bombing, domestic extremists have murdered 15 law enforcement officers. Each of their deaths was a unique tragedy.
By Susy Buchanan
Cortez, Colo., Police Department
May 29, 1998
Sue and Dale Claxton grew up in Colorado and were high school sweethearts. Dale liked fast cars and living on the edge. Sue was fiercely independent. "We had a real passionate kind of relationship," Sue says now, laughing, "more than just the passion of youth."
After high school Dale wanted to get married, but Sue had other plans. She wanted to make something of herself and continue her education, while he didn't plan to attend college. Sue went away to college and, as a result, the couple lost each other for a decade. Dale married someone else and had two children.
When Sue and Dale met up 10 years later, he was going through a divorce. Sue had hoped the encounter would be civil at best. It turned out to be life-changing. The passion of their earlier relationship came roiling to the surface during their first conversation together. They were married four months later.
Dale worked for a tire company, then did construction work during the first years of their marriage. Consequently, the family traveled the country, Sue tending to the kids while Dale built homes in Colorado, Nevada and Missouri. But when their oldest reached school age, Sue told Dale she wanted their children to grow up somewhere other than Missouri, and suggested moving back to Cortez.
They did, and Dale continued working construction there but also joined the volunteer sheriff's posse. One day, part of his training with the posse involved hand-to-hand combat. The man was hooked.
"He came home for lunch that day and said, 'I gotta do this,'" Sue remembers. It was the first time in 25 years she had ever heard him utter those words. That summer, Dale entered the police academy. Afterward, at 40, he was nervous about competing for two openings on the Cortez Police Department with men 15 years his junior, but he did well on the tests. Waiting to start work, Sue recalls, "He was like a kid waiting for Christmas to happen."
Dale "looked like this fierce, serious, no-nonsense guy, " Sue says, but "he was a very shy person inside." Becoming a cop helped him out of his shell. Now, Sue says, "He had a purpose."
Their life was a happy one. They'd ride horses together. He loved to cook Cajun recipes, whipping up hot and spicy dishes he would eat until he got hiccups, making a milder batch for Sue and the kids. They were living in a house more than 100 years old that Dale was endlessly remodeling.
On the morning of the last day of school and the last day of his life, Dale came by the classroom where Sue taught for a visit. "He stopped by my room and made plans to have lunch with me. We had a big kiss and I watched him walk down the hall."
Dale left the school and hopped into his cruiser. A few minutes later, he tried to pull over a water truck that had been reported stolen a day earlier.
Dale Claxton never made it out of his car. A gunman in a flak jacket leaped from the water truck and saturated his cruiser with gunfire, killing Dale instantly. He died with his seat belt fastened and his service revolver in its holster.
Three men were in the water truck, which authorities suspect was to be used in some kind of terrorist attack. The men were survivalists, and reportedly had attended meetings of an underground militia known as the Four Corners Patriots. They were reported to hate the federal government and its agencies, and were also caught up in millennial "Y2K" paranoia about the turn of the century.
A huge manhunt followed. Two of the men were eventually found in the desert, dead of apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds. The third, Jason McVean, has never been found. Many officials believe that he, too, died in the desert, although Sue is convinced he's still out there and on the run.
With a mixture of laughter and tears, Sue Claxton remembers how her lover used to stand her up on dates in high school, and then she thinks of the lunch they planned on his very last day. "He stood me up on our last date, too," she says with a sigh.