PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Dr. Hillary Tompkins was ready to mark her 40th birthday on Nov. 27 when she got a call from her mother telling her to turn on the news.
“My mom had watched the news and had gotten a call from the Denver Post looking for me,” Tompkins, originally from Presque Isle, said Monday night from her home in New Hampshire. “She said I needed to turn on the TV because there had been a shooting and an officer had been killed.”
That officer was 44-year-old Garrett Swasey, one of three people allegedly shot to death by Robert Lewis Dear at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility last Friday.
An officer at the University of Colorado Springs, Swasey was heading to the scene to support other law enforcement, a move that did not surprise Tompkins at all.
Before Tompkins became a medical doctor and before Swasey became a university cop, the two trained, skated and competed as ice dancers, appearing together in Tompkins’ hometown of Presque Isle in 1995 during the annual “Musical on Ice” production.
Fresh off the 1995 Seniors National Ice Dancing competition, where they placed 13th overall, the two performed a choreographed routine set to classical music from “Beauty and the Beast.”
“We skated together in 1994 and 1995,” Tompkins said. “At the end of 1995, after the nationals, it was a really big thing for this small-town girl to come home and do a show.”
According to an article in the March 15, 1995, edition of the local weekly Star Herald, the pair “wowed the crowd with two touching performances of graceful precision.”
She said that Swasey was more than happy at the time to accompany her.
“We spent that whole year together,” Tompkins said. “That’s what figure skaters do when they are partners practicing every morning, noon and night [and] you develop strong friendships and supportive relationships.”
Coming to Presque Isle to perform, she said, was just one example of Swasey’s giving nature.
“It was nice to be able to come back home to show people who did not understand why you left, what you are doing,” she said. “It was nice to have a partner that would do that with you.”
Tompkins left Presque Isle when she was in middle school to work with national-level coaches in Colorado, where she met Swasey.
“We became friends,” she said. “He was a super guy, always upstanding, supportive and caring … a really selfless and fun guy, the type of person you want beside you when you are competing or practicing for long hours.”
A New England native who grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts, Swasey and two-time Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan also were friends on and off the ice, according to the Boston Herald. In their early years Swasey’s father, David Swasey, drove his son and Kerrigan to the rink each morning in suburban Boston.
In an interview with the Boston Herald, Kerrigan said she was “devastated” by Swasey’s death.
“We were together a lot as children,” Kerrigan said. “I would ride my bike to his house and we’d hang out at the pool. We were together all the time, whether skating or not.
“It’s so sad,” Kerrigan told the paper. “He has two young kids and they run to him when he comes in the door.”
Not long after the 1995 nationals, Tompkins and Swasey each drifted away from competitive skating to pursue individual personal and professional goals.
“He decided he wanted to move on to other things and stayed out in Colorado,” Tompkins said. “I moved back to Boston to train but injured my ankle and decided to go on with college and became a doctor.”
While Swasey no longer competed in skating, he did volunteer his time teaching others to skate at a local rink.
According to an online Huffington Post article, Swasey and his wife, Rachel, were both leaders in their church, serving as co-pastors. They had two children, Elijah, who turned 11 on Sunday, and 6-year-old Faith.
“I am heartbroken for his family, his wife and kids and his close friends and his parents,” Tompkins said. “It’s just surreal, but in what I have read they were rooted in their faith and that will help them and so will knowing he was such a great guy and did what he did because he wanted to and wanted to serve.”
She called the shooting spree at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood a “senseless tragedy” and a stark reminder that it can happen anywhere at anytime.
The two had not spoken much since going their separate ways off the ice, but that does not lessen Tompkins’ feelings of loss and sorrow.
“He was just one of those really nice guys,” she said. “His going to help others [at the scene of the shooting] was really the epitome of who he was [and] how he lived his life.”