GFPD, other agencies investigating triple homicide; Lincoln Elementary closed today due to proximity of incident

UPDATED 10:38 a.m. Dec. 18

The Great Falls Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigations, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office are investigating a triple homicide that occurred in the early morning hours of Dec. 17 in Great Falls.

In a Dec. 18 press release, officials named Ricky Lee Gardipee, 41, of Great Falls as the man shot by deputy U.S. Marshals on 26th Street South around 5:40 a.m. on Dec. 17.

He is believed to be involved in the triple homicide, according to a release from the Petroleum County Coroner’s Office.

According to the release, Gardipee’s body was transported to the Montana Crime Lab in Billings for autopsy on Dec. 18.

The investigation is ongoing by the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation and the Petroleum County Coroner Dick Brown, according to the release.

According to the Montana Department of Corrections, Gardipee also went by the following aliases: Billy Komeotis, Billy Lee Komeotis, Billy Lee Komeothis, Billy Komeotis and Ricky Komeotis.

His criminal record, according to DOC included convictions for robbery, assault on a peace officer, failure to register as a sex offender, theft, criminal possession of dangerous drugs, forgery and burglary.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter, identified the victims as Cheryl Ann Larsen, 53; Wendy Joanne Carlson, 60; Steve Mitchell Hall, 61.

Slaughter said all three of the victims lived in Great Falls and death notifications were made to their respective next of kin. The victims were transported to the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula and autospies will be completed this week.

For most of the day on Dec. 17, 26th Street South was closed from 7th Avenue South to 9th Avenue South as officials conduct their investigation.

This area will remain closed until investigators have processed the area involved in this incident, according to GFPD.

Lincoln Elementary was closed Dec. 17 due to the proximity of the incident. The incident did not involve students or school staff, according to GFPD.

The public is asked to avoid the area.

According to GFPD, a 911 call came in around 2 a.m. requesting medical assistance to the Emerald Casino at 1701 10th Ave. S.

During an afternoon press conference, officials provided few additional details, but said the original call was a welfare check for a male bleeding from the face and asking for help.

GFPD officers and Great Falls Fire Rescue responded and found three deceased people inside the casino, according to GFPD.

A fourth person was located a short time later at Benefis Health System being treated from a gunshot wound and is recovering from his injuries, according to GFPD. The individual was listed as being in stable condition Tuesday afternoon, according to the GFPD.

A search for the suspect continued through the early morning hours and around 5:45 a.m., law enforcement found the suspect near 26th Street and 7th Avenue South.

“Gunshots were fired and the suspect was fatally wounded,” according to GFPD.

“There is no longer a danger to the public,” according to GFPD.

GFPD officials told The Electric this morning that all their information indicates there was only one suspect involved.

GFPD will be conducting a press conference this afternoon, but information will be limited since the state will handle the officer involved shooting and until next of kin can be notified, so identities can be release, and it remains an active investigation.

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Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore told The Electric that one of the deceased was found near the school so the area was essentially quarantined.

GFPD said it was the suspect that was found, armed, near the school where he engaged with officers and was killed.

Cascade County Attorney Josh Racki said during the afternoon briefing that he had requester Fergus County Coroner Dick Brown to work with with DCI for the inquiry into the suspect’s death.

The GFPD investigations bureau, led by Capt. Jeff Newton, is running point on the investigation into the three homicides inside the casino, according to officials.

Moore said Lincoln Elementary parents needing daycare could take children to Paris Gibson Education Center, where Lincoln principal and staff were operating for the day.

He said it is an emergency situation to close school for the day and that the district would be in touch with the Montana Office of Public Instruction to determine if they need a waver for the loss of instructional time.

The Lincoln K-3 holiday program that was canceled today will be rescheduled for Dec. 20 starting at 1 p.m. for kindergarten. 1:30 p.m. for 1st grade, 2 p.m. for 2nd grade and 2:30 p.m. for 2rd grade in the Lincoln gym, according to GFPS.

Police will be in the area of the incidents today and the following days as they conduct their investigation.

GFPD, CCSO and the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation are conducting the investigation jointly, according to GFPD.

The public is asked to stay away from the scenes and contact GFPD Detective Keith Hedges at 455-8519 if you have information regarding the incident, or logon to to remain anonymous.

Victim and suspect names will be released at a later date, according to GFPD.

UPDATE FROM GFPS 12:37 p.m. Dec. 17:

As reported by the GFPD, on Dec. 17 there was a triple homicide at the Emerald City Casino at 1701 10th Ave. S.

Lincoln Elementary School was closed due to the proximity of the shooting of the suspect.

All other Great Falls Public Schools were not directly affected by this incident so, we maintained business as usual in the rest of our schools today.

“GFPD informed the Great Falls Public Schools administration of this tragic incident immediately [at 6 a.m.], allowing us to promptly communicate the school closure to families through multiple media outlets. Staff and student were never in danger. We are grateful to the staff at Paris Gibson Education Center who opened their doors to the Lincoln staff, students and families,” according to the GFPS release.

GFPS’ crisis team was at Paris Gibson Education Center today to work with the Lincoln staff and any students who needed assistance throughout the day. That team of counselors and mental health professionals will continue to be available to support students, families and staff for the remainder of the week at Lincoln and other schools as needed, according to GFPS.

School will resume as usual Dec. 18 at Lincoln Elementary and all other schools.