MONUMENT, Colo. — Colorado’s top state prison official was shot and killed when he answered the front door of his house, setting off a hunt for the shooter and raising questions about whether the attack had anything to do with his job.
Tom Clements, 58, was shot about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in Monument, north of Colorado Springs, and a witness reported a person driving away in a dark-colored ‘‘boxy’’ car that had its engine running at the time of the shooting, authorities said.
Investigators were exploring all possibilities, including that the shooting could have been related to Clements’ job as executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, which he took after years working in Missouri corrections.
The killing stunned officials in both states. They described Clements — who is married with two daughters — as dedicated, funny, caring, and an expert on the latest and best methods in his field who chose the Colorado job over retirement.
At a news conference, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was red-eyed and somber, speaking haltingly as he said he did not think the killing was part of any larger attack against his Cabinet, members of which stood behind him, several of them crying. Others dabbed their eyes.
‘‘Tom Clements dedicated his life to being a public servant, to making our state a better place and he is going to be deeply, deeply missed,’’ said Hickenlooper, who planned to go to Monument to meet with Clements’ family after signing gun-control bills.
While the motive of the killing was not immediately clear, similar attacks on officials have been on the rise in the United States, said Glenn McGovern, an investigator in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office in California who tracks such incidents globally. He said there have been as many in the past three years as the entire prior decade.
The attacks are often motivated by revenge, said McGovern, who has documented more than 133 attacks, including 41 homicides, against judges, prosecutors, and other justice and police officials since 1950.
‘‘It’s often taking place away from the office, which makes sense, because everyone’s hardening up their facilities,’’ said McGovern, adding that he advises prosecutors to constantly assess the safety of their residences.
Clements lived in a wooded neighborhood of two-story houses on 2-acre lots in an area known as the Black Forest.
It would have been simple to find Clements’ home. It took two clicks to get his correct street address through a publicly available Internet locator Wednesday.