COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Gary Flakes, a man convicted in the murders of two teenagers, formally announced Wednesday that he's running for Colorado Springs City Council.
"Today I will use my life experiences, my knowledge, to make the lives of young people better and help all of District 4 live up to its greatest potential," Flakes told a crowd of a few dozen people at his campaign announcement at the Sand Creek Library.
In 1997, Flakes was convicted of accessory to murder and negligent homicide in the killings of 13-year-old Andy Westbay and 15-year-old Scott Hawrysiak. The boys were gunned down as they were walking in the Cheyenne Meadows area on Valentine's Day.
Flakes and his friend Jeron Grant accused each other of pulling the trigger of the shotgun, and neither was convicted of murder, sparking outrage. After spending 12 years in prison, Flakes was released in 2011.
"As a young person, my actions devastated the community and brought grief to two families," said Flakes, now 32 years old. "The teenager who committed those acts needed the young leader who I am today."
Flakes refused to elaborate when asked what he's been doing since getting out of prison.
"Leadership development. I do different consultant work and things like that," he said when asked by KRDO Newschannel 13. "Just organizing. That's what I do."
Scott Hawrysiak's sister, Michele, said she was stunned when she heard about Flakes' plans to run for office.
"It's a slap in the face, it really is" said Michele Hawrysiak. "I understand you want to do all this, but why haven't you done any restitution for the families?"
Hawrysiak said Flakes has never attempted to apologize to her family and ignored an email she wrote to him seeking a face to face meeting.
When asked why he hasn't apologized to the victims' families since getting out of prison, Flakes said he's tried to reach out to them through a third-party group called Restorative Justice.
"I'll reach out again," said Flakes. "I'll take it upon myself to do that."
Flakes' supporters include former state Rep. Dennis Apuan and Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of the Colorado Springs NAACP.
"I think he served his time, justice was served and the man deserves a second chance," said Apuan.
Apuan said he worked with Flakes doing non-partisan voter registration during the summer.
"He is very passionate with what he believes in,"said Apuan. "He believes in making a positive change in the community. He is very strong in leadership development and youth mentoring."
Congressional candidate Dave Anderson was also at Flakes' announcement. Anderson said Flakes helped with his campaign and he was interested to hear what Flakes had to say about running for council.
Outside the library, a small crowd gathered to peacefully oppose Flakes' campaign and honor the slain teens.
"We're here tonight to remember Scott and Andy and show support for their families," said Dan Valentine, a friend of the boys. "I was pretty shocked (Flakes) would have the nerve to run for City Council."
One woman who joined the group heard the gunshots outside her home that Valentine's Day night nearly 16 years ago. Terry Morin said she and a friend ran to help the two victims.
"All I remember is going over there and running," said Terry Morin. "And we both were holding Scott. It was just horrible," said Morin.
She said she doesn't know what to make of Flakes' announcement.
"I have a lot of mixed emotions. One minute I was like, 'Oh this can't be happening,'" Morin said. "But the next minute, I mean, everyone deserves a second chance."
The Colorado Springs city attorney's office is looking into whether it's legal for a convicted felon to run for City Council.
You can see Flakes' full announcement and his answers to media questions here.