Luke Coffee Says God Told Him to ‘Stand in the Gap’ on January 6

Defendant Dallas filmmaker felt a higher calling amid the unfolding chaos at the Capitol: ‘Go up to the front and pray’
By Joseph M. Hanneman
Joseph M. Hanneman
Joseph M. Hanneman
Joseph M. Hanneman is a reporter for The Epoch Times with a focus on the January 6 Capitol incursion and its aftermath, as well as general Wisconsin news. In 2022, he helped to produce "The Real Story of Jan. 6," an Epoch Times documentary about the events that day. Joe has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. He can be reached at:
June 13, 2022Updated: October 1, 2022

Luke Coffee was warned that a storm was coming.

As he walked along the perimeter of the U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021, the 41-year-old filmmaker was approached by three breathless men. One of them said, “There are people dying inside the Capitol! We need patriots!”

Coffee distinctly recalls his first reaction: “Bull[expletive].”

A friend who is “pretty connected” told Coffee to watch out for false-flag operations after President Donald Trump finished speaking at the “Stop the Steal” rally at the Ellipse in Washington D.C.

According to one dictionary definition, a false flag is “an intentional misrepresentation, especially a covert political or military operation, carried out to appear as if it was undertaken by another party.”

Even with that caution uppermost in his mind, Coffee felt compelled to make the long trek to the Capitol. It was late in the day. Violence had broken out between protesters and police in hot spots on the Capitol grounds.

Coffee felt that he was needed. He didn’t necessarily look the part of a protester. His backpack was full of camera gear. He wore a cowboy hat and a camouflage hunting jacket. As a joke for a buddy, Coffee put on green face paint used for duck hunting.

“I felt the Holy Spirit saying, ‘Luke, go up to the front and pray,’” he told The Epoch Times.

Epoch Times Photo
Luke Coffee plans to fight the Jan. 6 charges brought against him by federal prosecutors. (Dixie Dixon/For The Epoch Times)

It was a long walk, but the trek seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. Coffee saw scores of people looking at him intently with friendly expressions. Some made eye contact and seemed to beckon him.

Paper scraps fell from above as he walked, twirling in the stiff breeze like ticker-tape confetti. He looked up, but Coffee couldn’t see where the paper bits came from.

He grabbed one from mid-air. On it was a quote from Scripture. He recalls feeling inspired by it. He grabbed a second piece—another quote from the Bible.

“They were encouraging verses,” he said. “I grabbed one and read it, then kept going and grabbed another. It’s what encouraged me to keep walking up to where I ended up. It’s wild how quickly I made it to that area by the terrace.”

More convinced than ever that he was being divinely guided toward the massive crowd on the Lower West Terrace, Coffee approached his destination.

He began to see signs of chaos. An injured man walked past. “He was bleeding,” Coffee said, “and I wanted to pray for him and wipe the blood off his face.”

Having worked most of his career in television and film production, Coffee said the blood was fake.

“It was stage blood,” Coffee said. “The one guy that passed me had fake blood running down his face. It was syrup. I said something like, ‘Dude, are you stinking Antifa?’ I called it out. It was fake.”

Epoch Times Photo
Luke Coffee inside the rural Texas church where Elizabeth Toon wanted to be married. She is buried in the church cemetery. (Dixie Dixon/For The Epoch Times)

Not a Normal Day

On a normal day, seeing what looked like fake blood might have been enough to send Coffee scrambling back home to Texas. This was not a normal day.

Coffee moved closer to the enormous crowd gathered on the Lower West Terrace. A tightly packed group stood on the stairway leading to the Capitol’s tunnel entrance. He moved up the left side of the stairs just as police gassed the crowd in the tunnel.

The ensuing panic caused a human wave to spill from the tunnel down the stairs. It was all made worse by officers pushing the crowd, causing people to be trampled.

“They started pushing people and they fell back on the stairs,” he said. “There were piles three or four people high, laying horizontally. I was trying to pull people from there.”

Epoch Times Photo
Luke Coffee begs the crowd to stop and pray as rescuers attempt to extract people crushed in a stampede at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Coffee noticed a woman he now believes was Rosanne Boyland, 34, of Kennesaw, Georgia. She was at the bottom of a pile, struggling to breathe.

“She was saying, ‘Help! Help!’ And I was trying to pull her out,” Coffee said. “It was like there was nothing I could do. So I said, ‘We need to pray.’”

Video footage shot by a nearby protester showed the moment in dramatic clarity. Coffee stood amid chaos, with his arms extended, imploring people to pay attention. “Stop! Pray!” he shouted over the din. “Pray! Pray! Pray!”

Protester Jake Lang pulled an unconscious Philip Anderson off the pile at the top of the stairs leading to the tunnel. Eventually, protesters got access to the dying Boyland, who was unconscious.

“Someone’s being crushed!” shouted a bystander bleeding from a head wound. “People are being crushed!” In desperation, he cried, “Get her up. Get her up! Get her up, please. Save her life! Save her life, please!”

A Metropolitan Police Department officer grabbed a wooden walking stick from a protester and wielded it like a sword.

Just seconds before, a crutch had flown over protesters’ heads and landed near where Coffee’s feet would soon be. His left foot was just inches from Boyland’s hand resting on the sidewalk. He held up his right hand and shouted, “Stop!”

“This is just interesting how God works,” Coffee told The Epoch Times. “I’m telling you, it was like I heard the Holy Spirit say, ‘Go stand in the gap, Luke.’ I felt called to stand in the gap between the rioters.

“There’s a still (photo) of me, praying right next to this crowd being pushed on top of each other,” he said. “There were a couple of other guys praying with me right there because I thought people would die.

“And I said, ‘I’ll go up there.’ God had just said, ‘Go stand in the gap.’”

Those were not just any words. They are found in the Bible.

“I was like, ‘What would I do in the gap?'” Coffee recalled thinking. “There’s a crutch below me. Stand in, stand as big as I can.”

Epoch Times Photo
Luke Coffee holds up a crutch as he stands in the breach between police and the crowd at the Lower West Terrace tunnel. “In the name of Jesus, please stop!” he said. (U.S. Capitol Police/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

The reply to Coffee’s appearance in the gap—supplied by Officer Lila Morris—was a heavy swing of the wooden club. The first blow struck Coffee on the left elbow. He tried to block her second swipe, which missed. He was then sprayed in the face with pepper gel.

Morris then inexplicably turned her fury on the motionless Boyland, striking her in the ribs once and twice in the head.

Coffee bent down and picked up the crutch. He raised it over his head like a scepter. After several seconds, he drew it down and held it like a plow at waist level.

Coffee then surged forward with what one bystander said seemed like superhuman strength. He pushed the front line of police back into the tunnel several feet. Coffee didn’t realize it until long after, but as he moved the police backward, several men pulled Boyland down the steps out of harm’s way. They were clear of the fray and started CPR.

Protecting a Dying Woman—Again

This was the second time in his life that Coffee’s actions were an attempt to protect a woman from death. On Jan. 6, 2021, it was a stranger named Rosanne. On Nov. 5, 2006, it was the woman he intended to marry.

Coffee and 22-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Toon spent the evening at a birthday party at Avalon, a famous nightclub in Hollywood.

It was a special night for them, too. They were a handsome couple. She was 5 foot 7 inches and wore a black dress with black leggings and new high-heel shoes. He stood 1 inch taller. That night he wore jeans, cowboy boots, and a chambray shirt with pearl-covered snaps.

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Luke Coffee with Elizabeth Toon, whom he planned to marry before a tragic accident took her from him. (Photo Courtesy of Luke Coffee)

He brought her flowers and gave her a long love letter. They counted on celebrating the life together that they began planning the night they met 18 months before. She called him Luka. He called her Essie, a play on the first initials in Sarah Elizabeth.

When they first arrived at Avalon, Elizabeth was adamant that they not spend $25 on valet parking. “Luke Coffee don’t you dare pay that,” she told him. They could park behind the 101 Coffee Shop, one of their favorite haunts just a few blocks away.

Coffee was only thinking of the woman he intended to marry. She wore brand new shoes purchased the day before at Shoe Pavilion. He worried about her walking that far in heels, but she insisted. So they parked and walked under the Hollywood Freeway and down Vine Street to the club.

After a night of music and dancing, they left Avalon to walk back to the 101 Coffee Shop. Their steps were interrupted a few times as Elizabeth stopped to adjust the straps on her shoes, which kept slipping off her heels.

On a special night like this, it was easy for Coffee to look back to the day they met, on his 26th birthday in June 2005. His friends threw him a booze cruise on a boat in Marina del Ray. Elizabeth and her sister were invited by Coffee’s brother. They both had internships in Los Angeles.

It turns out Elizabeth’s parents had a Texas ranch that shares a fence line with the ranch owned by Coffee’s parents back home near Dallas. They grew up practically next door, at least as ranches go.

Coffee recalled being briefly introduced to her five years before at a Christmas party. Now he would get to know her, a beautiful woman five years his junior with a flashing smile and a kind heart.

‘You’re My Forever’

At the end of the night, he told her he planned to marry her one day. He was trying to break into the television and film industry. She was finishing up school at the University of Texas at Austin.

“I said, ‘Well, we have rest of summer to fall in love, then know you have a year left of school so we can fly back and forth from LA to Austin then after that we can get married,’” he recalled. “She responded with her big toothy smile and said, ‘OK!’ And I told her I was going to kiss her because it was my birthday after all.”

As they walked east on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood Hills, Elizabeth had to sit down on the curb to adjust her shoes again. She pulled Coffee down to sit next to her, looked at him, and suddenly got serious. It was 1:30 a.m.—a moment burned in his memory.

“Luka, do you know you’re my forever and that I will always love you?” she said. “Kiss me, really kiss me.”

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A Los Angeles traffic camera shows Luke Coffee some 20 feet in the air after being struck by a hit-and-run driver going at least 60 mph on Nov. 5, 2006. (Los Angeles Police Department/Courtesy Luke Coffee)

With that, they got up to cross the street. About a third of the way across, one of Elizabeth’s heels popped out of the shoe again. Worried for her safety, Coffee picked her up over his shoulder like a fireman. The last sound he remembers is her giggles at being picked up like a doll.

After a few steps, he saw a glint in the corner of his eye. It was a Toyota Corolla. It came out of nowhere, screaming down Franklin like a missile.

Patrons in the cafe heard the thump as the car struck the couple. Police and witnesses estimated the driver was going 60 to 80 miles per hour at the time of impact. The speed limit was 35.

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Luke Coffee says he knows his story with Elizabeth Toon didn’t end with her death. (Courtesy of Luke Coffee)

Coffee hit the windshield so hard it almost imploded. His blood was smeared across the fractured glass. The car’s bumper came off. Coffee flew 15 to 20 feet in the air and landed on his head. He lay crumpled in the street with broken ribs, punctured lungs, and a head injury.

The impact was so severe, it knocked the heels off of his cowboy boots.

As customers came out of the coffee shop, they tried to comfort Coffee as he cried out for Elizabeth and gasped for air through deflated lungs. She flew 30 feet, struck the hood of a parked BMW, and tumbled another 50 feet onto the roadside grass.

Sarah Elizabeth Toon was dead. Essie was just 22. She would be forever young.

In an instant, she was snatched from life by Manuel Erik Munera, a suspected drunk driver who fled the scene. Munera never slowed down or stopped to render aid to the couple. He was later convicted only of leaving the scene of an accident. He didn’t turn himself in to police for several days after the crash after abandoning his car.

Coffee was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. In the emergency room, he kept crying out for Essie. Although he was told on the way to the hospital that she died, Coffee didn’t remember it.

Coffee was devastated that his injuries prevented him from going home to attend Elizabeth’s funeral. It was held on Nov. 10, her 23rd birthday. “I prayed for God to take me. The night I found out I couldn’t go to her funeral, I was like, ‘Lord, just kill me.’”

Begging God for a Sign

As he began the long healing process, Coffee battled emotional and physical scars. He suffered survivor’s guilt. He begged God for a sign that the love of his life was in Heaven.

Coffee believes God answered his prayers.

Several of Coffee’s friends stayed in the room to provide emotional support in the days after the accident.

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Sarah Elizabeth Toon, 1984–2006. (Courtesy of Luke Coffee)

“We prayed and I asked to see her or have a dream or talk to her,” Coffee said. “I prayed with my three best friends at four in the morning that God would let me see her, have a dream, or talk to her and it would give me a purpose.”

The answer was almost immediate.

“I had this just supernatural peace that just washed over me like a shower,” he said. “This lady rolls a harp into my room and asked if she could play. Literally, as we opened our eyes, ‘Could I play for you?’”

A visitor with a harp at 4 a.m. was rather unusual, but the men were so transfixed they thought nothing of it. They listened. The music that came from the strings was beyond moving; beyond beautiful. It was indescribable. Coffee and his friends wept. As she played, they felt like they were in another place, without cares, pain, or sorrow.

The men were reeling with emotion as the woman finished her 20-minute concert and departed. Later that day, they asked the nurse about it. She said no one from outside is allowed in the hospital until 6 a.m. Coffee’s friends were an exception. She saw no woman with a harp during the night.

Coffee believes he had a heavenly visitor.

On another day, visitors became worried because they could not wake Coffee. His heart rate and breathing became shallow. In his unconscious state, he saw his Essie.

“I saw Elizabeth. It was in this white space and she was right in front of me,” Coffee said.

She called me Luka. She was like, ‘Wake up Luka. Wake up. Wake up.

“That jolted me up and I started vomiting. I’ve got five more minutes left on this Dilaudid and I said, ‘Something’s not right.’ Then the machine starts beeping and I was like, ‘I’ve just been given an overdose.’”

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Luke Coffee of Dallas said God placed him at the Lower West Terrace Tunnel of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. (Dixie Dixon/For The Epoch Times)

In the months that followed, Coffee had time to reflect on everything. He felt blessed that Elizabeth sat down on the curb along Franklin Avenue and told him she loved him. “It’s like the Lord let her know He was going to take her,” he said. “Ten seconds later she was gone. I’m grateful He gave me that gift.”

In January 2008, Coffee testified at the trial of Munera, whose charges were reduced to leaving the scene of an accident. Coffee believes it was vehicular homicide. The judge in the case denounced Munera as a liar and said he was frustrated he could only sentence him to 180 days in jail. Munera ended up only serving 45 days.

“It is the court’s belief that his conduct in this case is egregious, that he hit two human beings, did not brake, kept going,” the judge said at sentencing. He said Munera was “just totally, completely lying” when he testified he didn’t know he’d hit anyone.

“He was aware that he hit some people,” the judge said. “He made efforts after that to cover up. He drove a couple of blocks. He pulled the car over. He called his girlfriend to come pick him up.”

Coffee and Elizabeth’s parents made victim-impact statements at the sentencing hearing. To the judge’s amazement, they said that they forgive Munera for what he did.

“I just sit here in complete and total admiration for the Toon family and the courage and forgiveness that they have shown, and the absolute character that they have as a family,” the judge said. “This is something that the court is not used to seeing.”

Life went on after the tragedy. Coffee continued his career in film and television. He’s probably most recognized for starring in a 2011 episode of Friday Night Lights on NBC. He has worked in film production in Hollywood and with Coffee Productions, his Texas-based film company.

Coffee has worked for years on Texas Angel, a film about his life with Elizabeth. Production and funding were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Coffee is intent on finishing the film as a tribute to Essie.

“She was my biggest cheerleader on Earth. And that’s what’s kept me going … I’ve never married,” Coffee said. “If I die tomorrow, she has been the love of my life, and she led me back to the Lord.”

Violence at the Capitol

All of that seemed far away back on the Lower West Terrace of the Capitol, where Coffee found himself in the thick of unrest after Boyland was dragged into the building by police. Coffee grabbed a megaphone and implored the crowd to act peacefully.

Epoch Times Photo
Luke Coffee of Dallas is struck with a walking stick wielded by Officer Lila Morris of the Metropolitan Police Department on January 6, 2021, as viewed from Morris’ bodycam. (DC Metropolitan Police Department/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

“They will use this against us,” he told the crowd.

Sometime after 5 p.m., more police arrived at the Lower West Terrace. The crowd began to disperse after President Donald Trump released a video telling everyone to go home, Coffee said.

“They brought in a bunch of back-ups, like full riot-gear cops,” he said. “They were just pushing everybody, violently pushing people who were trying to leave. It was nuts.”

Police began firing tear gas canisters into the crowd. One landed directly at Coffee’s feet.

“They started shooting that chemical gas and they hit one right by me,” he said. “I couldn’t go anywhere. I just collapsed. Patriots carried me out, I passed out. I thought I was going to die.”

When Coffee got back to Dallas, the attacks started. His film production business dried up. He was harassed and condemned on social media. He agreed to an interview with a Texas-based magazine. The subsequent article said he “lived in luxury while hiding from the FBI.” The finger-wagging story amplified the narrative from The New York Times that Coffee prevented police from helping Boyland, who lay unconscious near his left foot, “if they were able to notice her at all.”

Bodycam footage from numerous police officers and open-source cellphone video footage show protesters begged police to help Boyland well before Coffee entered the scene. Not only were their pleas ignored, police shoved several of them on top of Boyland.

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Sunset at the old Rock Church near Cranfills Gap, Texas. Luke Coffee and Elizabeth Toon planned to be married here before a hit-and-run driver ended the dream of their life together. (Dixie Dixon/For The Epoch Times)

Coffee faces 10 federal charges, including six alleging he assaulted police with a deadly weapon (the crutch). The FBI agent who testified at his preliminary hearing said Coffee appeared to be acting as a peacemaker and was separating protesters from police officers. When he held the crutch at waist level, it made contact with officers for as little as five seconds, the agent said.

The FBI agent testified that Coffee responded immediately when he contacted him on Jan. 13, 2021. Coffee was told at the time he wasn’t a suspect. Despite the narrative that he was hiding from the FBI, the agent said he spoke to Coffee at least seven times in February 2021.

Although there were informal discussions about plea agreements that could have involved four or five years in prison, Coffee plans to go to trial and is busy raising funds for his defense. He said he’s not political, not an insurrectionist or a rioter. He said he felt called to go that day, and isn’t in any way a criminal.

Coffee said he now understands something he believes God put in his heart some six months before Jan. 6, 2021. He was warned about deceptions being unmasked, and warned he would be taken through a storm. Alas, this isn’t his first rodeo.

A Texas Angel

Coffee still visits Elizabeth’s grave at St. Olaf Cemetery near Cranfills Gap, Texas. Just across the meadow is the old St. Olaf church, now known as Rock Church. A couple of months before the fatal accident, Coffee and Elizabeth discussed plans to be married at the charming country church, followed by a reception at her parents’ ranch with entertainment by country music artists Jack Ingram and Pat Green.

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The final resting place of Sarah Elizabeth Toon at St. Olaf Cemetery near Cranfills Gap, Texas. (Dixie Dixon/For The Epoch Times)

Months after the funeral he was unable to attend, Coffee visited Elizabeth’s grave for the first time. The soil had noticeably settled. He brought a wheelbarrow out with a load of dirt and trekked back and forth some five times. It was his corporal act of mercy. Something that just involved the two of them. Together.

As he finished that day, a storm rolled in and soaked Coffee to the skin as he sat at the edge of the grave.

This peaceful place is good for reflection. Coffee often pulls his truck up close enough to hear the stereo that booms out some of their favorite songs. George Strait brings comfort with “You’ll Be There,” a song Elizabeth sang on video during one trip from Texas to Los Angeles.

Maybe the most impactful, though, is “Texas Angel,” which touched Coffee so much he used it as the title of the film he is making about Elizabeth.

So won’t you smile for me
my Texas angel
It’ll be alright
Just lay your head beside me
And dream of me tonight
And I promise I’ll watch over you
‘Til the morning light

Coffee believes God led him through the storm. He knows there will be more. He said he’s ready to go wherever he is called.

“I don’t fear anything,” Coffee said. “I’m just ready to be, I just want to be used by the Lord.”