Tom Sullivan said he was just trying to show someone a few photos of his son.
Alex Sullivan, 27, was one of the young men killed last year in the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting, and his father wanted a high-ranking Republican lawmaker to know what gun violence had taken away from him.
So this week, Tom Sullivan went to a forum being held by Denver Post. State Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman was there answering questions about the recent legislative session in which several gun control measures were debated and passed.Sullivan was allowed to ask the last question of the forum, and he confronted Cadman about the way a number of legislators conducted themselves during the session. Cadman’s defensive response was caught on video and later posted online. But Sullivan told TPM on Friday there was an even more uncomfortable interaction between the two men after the event.
Sullivan said he approached Cadman to give him a collage with pictures of Alex.
“I walked right up to him, and I handed him one of the pictures, and I said, ‘This is a picture of my son,'” Sullivan recounted. “He looked me right in the eyes and he said angrily to me, ‘I know what he looks like,’ and he walked away.”
Cadman’s chief of staff, Jesse Mallory, told TPM he was not there to witness the exchange and that the minority leader was unavailable to comment on Friday afternoon.
The post-forum encounter was the unseen finale of a confrontation that had begun earlier at the Wednesday forum in front of an audience of spectators and journalists. His first part captured on video, and has been pointed to by gun control advocates as a sign of how Republicans see the issue. Sullivan rambled a little, and never actually got a question out. But he wanted to let the legislative big know what was on his mind.
“Gentlemen, this is my first time down at the–up in the Gallery, to watch you guys work,” Sullivan said. “And I have to tell you, I was kind of appalled at with what, with some of the things that I saw down there, the levity in which our elected officials conduct themselves down on the floor.”
Sullivan went on to criticize Cadman for comments made earlier at the forum, accusing Democrats of overreaching in plans to expand background checks for gun purchases. To prove his point, Cadman had outlined two hypothetical situations where well-meaning individuals would find themselves in violation of requirements on firearms transfers: Boy Scouts who carry weapons owned by family members on group outings, and Cadman’s family members who have him store their weapons on periodic vacations to Canada.
“I sat up there and listened to the stories about, you know the fictitious stories about Boy Scouts, and Canadian missionaries, moving around,” Sullivan said at the event.
Cadman cut him off.
“You know what, he’s trying to accuse me of lying, I think we’re done,” he said. “It’s people, and constitutional rights, over an elite government elected and run by a very progressive-progressive special interest group, that’s not even from Colorado. So did you have a question? Or do you just want to continue to throw insults at us?”
Sullivan continued and revealed he was the father of a victim of the Aurora shooting. Upon hearing this, Cadman seemingly began to listen attentively and take notes as Sullivan asked him to “imagine what that was like, having to go around to the hospitals here in town, looking for my son, and then finding out that he was lying in that theater, dead from a single gunshot wound to his heart.”
“What I will tell you sir is that my son was murdered in the Aurora theater by a man who had bought a 100-round drum and murdered my son,” Sullivan said.
While he was making the emotional speech, Sullivan later told TPM, Cadman appeared to only be pretending to take notes.
“When I told him who I was, then all of a sudden, he opened up his notebook again. But while I was talking to him, he wasn’t taking notes, he was doodling,” Sullivan said. “It was right in front of me.”
Sullivan said he couldn’t make out what Cadman was drawing, but he is certain the lawmaker was not writing. Cadman’s chief of staff disputed the accusation, however, and said the senator was “absolutely” taking notes.
After Sullivan finished speaking, the event concluded.
Though he was dismissed by Cadman after the event, Sullivan said he was “not upset” about the encounter.
“I’m not looking for a free pass from anybody. I don’t want anybody’s sympathy, or anybody’s pity, or anything like that,” said Sullivan. “If that’s how he feels, then that’s how he feels. That’s the way it is. … I’m not upset, now we know. I mean, I’m trying to figure out where these people stand on these issues.”
Watch the video of the initial interaction between Sullivan and Cadman at the forum: