By Eric Heinz
North Denver residents banded together to raise more than the target goals for fundraisers to benefit the families of two American Elm employees who were killed in a recent shooting.
The victims of the shooting, reported by the Denver Police Department as Emerall Vaughn-Dahler, 34, and Ignacio “Nacho” Gutierrez Morales, 58, were at the restaurant at 4132 W. 38th Ave. on April 24 when they were shot to death.
DPD has not yet released more information on the incident. Metro Denver Crime Stoppers increased its reward from $2,000 to $5,000 recently for any information leading to the whereabouts of the suspect. A silent auction and fundraiser was hosted by Hops & Pie to support the families of the victims, which raised at least $35,000, but possibly more. A GoFundMe page, which had a goal of raising $100,000, has exceeded $150,000.
American Elm owner Bob Reiter sent out a community letter following the fundraiser.
“I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from our industry and community,” Reiter wrote. “The warmth and compassion on display was truly heartening and I cannot thank you enough for coming together to support our team and the victims’ families. With your help, we raised more than $35,000 in just a few hours. What a truly remarkable accomplishment and incredible show of resilience.
“It fills me with hope and joy to be a part of a community where my fellow business owners have rallied together in the face of this senseless act of violence,” Reiter continued. “Your kindness and generosity in support of Nacho and Emerall’s families, as well as our team, is something I will never forget. Thank you for being a shining example of what makes Denver and the Highlands so special.”
According to the organizers of the GoFundMe page, Vaughn-Dahler and Gutierrez Morales were described as “pillars of the American Elm family and will be so greatly missed by their families, loved ones and colleagues.”
Vaughn-Dahler is survived by her 12-year-old child and her husband, Andrew. She was born in St. Johns, Arizona, and raised across St. Johns, San Diego and Arvada. According to the organizers, she spent the entirety of her career in the Denver hospitality scene and joined the American Elm team in 2021 as a server, working her way up to become general manager.
“She was earnest, hard working and compassionate, had a kind and gentle spirit,” the GoFundMe post reads. “Above all she was a loving mother, selfless and accepting of all, no judgements.”
Gutierrez Morales was “extremely well respected within Denver’s culinary community,” the organizers stated. He worked for years at Guard & Grace and Highland Tavern before coming to American Elm as a prep cook.
Born in Puebla, Mexico, he is survived by his three adult children. “Nacho was very caring, humble and loved by many,” the organizers stated. “If he had a chance to help someone he was always there. He was quiet and always there to listen.”
The restaurant will reopen May 18, for service seven days a week, for happy hour, dinner and weekend brunch.
Anyone with information regarding the April 24 incident is asked to call Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867. Callers can access the line any time of day to remain anonymous.