Colorado has once again woken up to yet another mass shooting. Ground Zero, this time, Boulder. The body count---a phrase normally reserved for war---ten, including a cop, Including a guy just leaving with his groceries. Including eight others who just stopped in to buy food, to get a prescription, to get a COVID-19 vaccine, to accompany a friend, to finish their shift. Ten lives. Ten deaths. One suspect. One rifle. How familiar.
“It’s shocking,” said former Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, a lifelong Boulder resident. “I’m sure I knew some of the victims,” he said. No doubt. Boulder is just large enough for anonymity, small enough to lose it several times a day.
Monday, 2:30 p.m., anonymity---a 21-year-old male--- entered the familiar grocery store at 3600 Table Mesa Drive, said nothing and, “just started shooting,” said a man checking out and preparing to leave.
Store meat cutter, Andy Arellano, told reporters the shots reverberated like “big hammers on a metal table.” The King Soopers’ worker heard shots ring out. “Boom, boom, boom, and that’s when all the people started running.”
In an age of instant information, a man live-streamed what he witnessed. His video showed at least two people shot outside the store, another motionless near the store entrance. “There are gunshots inside the store,” he said on the open mic. “The active shooter is still in there!”
The store, not far from Fairview High School and a regular stop for CU students, nearby residents and both car and foot traffic, suddenly went from community anchor to the bloodiest crime scene in the city’s history.
Responding to the initial call of ‘active shooter,’ Boulder police officer Eric Talley entered the store. It’s what cops have been trained to do in these situations ever since 1999’s Columbine High School shooting. Back then, the strategy was to wait until SWAT or reinforcements arrived before entering. The ten-year-veteran cop and father of seven did what he was trained to do. He did his job.
Well after the store was cordoned off and the investigation piecing together another bloody puzzle had begun, Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold, speaking emotionally but directly, told a quickly gathered media, “I want to reassure the community that they are safe and that we will try our best to identify the victims and work with the coroner’s office as prompt as possible.”
Her comments mirrored similar official statements made after other mass shootings that sadly still shock but no longer surprise. Columbine, as an example, was once an anomaly but now serves as code or point of reference for incidents like Boulder. That shooting, April 20, 1999, changed everything. Then, two teenaged executioners marched through their high school killing a dozen students and one teacher. The pair also died.
Boulder’s shooting, like the nation’s similar but irregular gun violence, brought the memory of Columbine back at lightspeed for Tom Mauser whose 15-year-old son, Daniel, died that day. The daughter of one of Mauser’s friend was grocery shopping at the Boulder store when the shooting began. “She said the shooter ran by her; she’s glad to be alive…she won’t be listed as a victim, but she’ll be traumatized,” said Mauser.
The trauma won’t stop there for the shoppers or perhaps more accurately, survivors of the state’s latest mass killing. The panic they spoke about to reporters will remain long after the memory of this most recent mayhem has faded. If that happens, Colorado’s recent history of mass shootings, Aurora, Thornton, Colorado Springs or Highlands Ranch will sadly serve as bookmarks.
Monday’s shooting reawakened the state. “I could hear shots getting closer and closer,” said one shopper. “Nobody could tell what was going on, so we started screaming, ‘Hit the ground! Hit the ground,’” said another. “A lot of people were petrified. A lot of people were crying,” recounted another survivor.
The weapon used by the shooter appeared to be a long gun that police characterized as a “patrol rifle,” and similar to those used in recent mass shootings. In 2018, Boulder enacted a local ordinance banning assault-style weapons, but a district court judge ruled earlier this month that the ordinance could not be enforced. The fight for tougher gun laws is regularly declared but rarely victorious.
“I was in office in the late 1990’s at the time of the Columbine shootings,” said former Boulder legislator Ron Tupa. He recalled the immediate demand for something to be done, remembered the outcry from constituents in Boulder for the Legislature to pass meaningful gun control legislation.” Pro-Second Amendment legislators along with powerful lobbying voices have been successful from making it happen. But what has happened are more similar incidents, the most recent occurred last week in Atlanta when eight people were fatally shot, including six Asian women.
President Biden spoke about Monday’s shooting, sending his condolences to the families of the victims. He and a handful of Congressional leaders, including Boulder Congressman Joe Neguse have also called for passage of more stringent gun laws.
Investigators will be interviewing witnesses and reconstructing the crime scene before releasing an official report. For now, friends and relatives will deal with the loss of the victims. Denny Stong, 20. Neven Stanisic, 23. Rikki Olds, 25, Tralona Bartkowiak, 49. Teri Leiker, 51. Eric Talley, 51. Suzanne Fountain, 59. Kevin Mahoney, 61. Lynn Murray, 62. Jodi Waters, 65.