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Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley was asleep in bed the morning of Dec. 31 when his phone rang. The call came from one of his commanders, Cauley said, and he immediately knew it would be serious.
“I have some really bad news,” Cauley recalled the commander saying. “He said, `Well, four deputies with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office have been shot.' And my heart sunk.”
Cauley first uttered a few words of shock.
“Before I could go on he said, `Well there's something else. One of those deputies is Zack Parrish.' ”
Processing tragic news
Zackari Parrish, a 29-year-old husband and father of two, served more than two years with the Castle Rock Police Department before taking a position with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, where he worked for seven months.
Parrish was shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance in Highlands Ranch on New Year's Eve. Four other officers and two civilians were also injured after a gunman opened fire on authorities early that morning. The suspect was later killed by a regional SWAT team.
“Then my heart sunk even further,” Cauley said of learning Parrish was involved. “The initial news was that four deputies had been shot and he was one of them, but I could just tell from how I was getting the information that Zack may not make it.”
Soon after the first call, Cauley learned Parrish had died from his injuries.
“You hope and pray that everything's going to be OK and then you find out that that isn't what happened, and you just, I don't know how to explain it, you just can't hardly believe it,” he said. “It's the first phone call like that I've had to take and when people ask me, as a chief what keeps me up at night, that's what keeps me up at night, is getting those phone calls. I never want to get another one like that again.”
Shortly after noon on Dec. 31, Cauley appeared with other officials alongside Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock at a news conference. He did not speak, but stood behind Spurlock with a look of grief on his face.
A call to serve
Cauley came to know Parrish personally in his time with the department.
“I first met Zack on Dec. 22, 2014,” he said in a Jan. 4 interview.
That day, Cauley interviewed Parrish in the final step of the department's hiring process. Cauley remembers Parrish's big smile and his firm handshake. He quickly learned Parrish was a man of faith and family-oriented.
Parrish was leaving a career in banking to enter law enforcement, something Cauley found interesting and inquired more about.
“It became pretty clear to me that he had a passion for law enforcement and he had a passion for serving the community. It was a calling for him and it was such a strong pull that that is why he decided to change careers.”
After Parrish was hired, the two built a relationship because they routinely used the department's fitness center at the same time.
“It was more of Jack and Zack talking, and not Officer Parrish and the chief,” he said.
That's how Parrish was, Cauley said. He found ways to engage with people on a personal level. He described Parrish as a genuine person who had a sense of humor that could de-escalate any situation.
When asked for a specific example of how Parrish left a positive impact on people, Cauley paused, then smiled. There were too many to choose from, he explained.
“Zack was full of those,” he said.
His love for people combined with a non-stop work ethic made Parrish a model officer, Cauley said, one he was proud to have and sad to see leave for another position with the sheriff's office in May 2017.
“I had spent quite a bit of time with Zack trying to talk him out of leaving,” Cauley said. “When he left, I told him that when he got to the sheriff's office and if he felt he wanted to come back, he could call me and I'd make it happen.”
'One of ours'
Parrish was known to everyone in the department, Cauley said, and will be missed by many people in the region. Their priorities moving forward are to ensure Parrish's wife and children have the support they need.
Cauley is also keeping a watchful eye on the mental health of his employees as they mourn Parrish. The department has police psychologists specializing in the loss of an officer ready to help if needed, he said.
“Even though Zack had been gone for seven months,” Cauley said, “we still consider Zack one of ours.”
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