Boulder mass shooting shatters neighborhood’s fragile peace

The shooter invaded a routine place, a grocery store, where thousands drop in daily to buy eggs and milk or get a COVID-19 shot.

The King Soopers on Table Mesa Drive, where 10 people, including a police officer, were shot and killed by a lone gunman Monday, is an anchor in this South Boulder neighborhood. It sits about two miles south of the University of Colorado. Many residents know the staffers and clerks as friends and neighbors.

That made the shooting rampage feel personal to many here. Gunfire had shattered a low-key, if comforting presence, a supermarket, like many across the nation, that kept its doors open through the year-long pandemic. It was a place to buy vegetables and check on one another.

“I was going to go there Monday afternoon but procrastinated and stayed home instead,” said Stephen Skory, 41, as he walked his dog past the closed grocery store early Tuesday morning. “That’s how close it was.”

He and his wife shop there weekly. He takes his young daughters to the library just across the street.

“I’ll go back because there is no correlation between what happened now and what will happen in the future,” he said, looking over the metal fence surrounding the crime scene. “My opinion is there is no safe place to be. If I had changed my schedule slightly, I could have been in there. What makes me angry is knowing that nothing will change.”

Police work on the scene outside the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

On a sunny if chilly morning, a phalanx of media lined the street across from the supermarket. Residents in the nearby apartments peered at the throng of cameras and television trucks. Joggers ran past. Cars slowed as those inside took photos. The iconic Flatirons, those soaring slabs of red sandstone that frame the city, stood draped in fresh snow.

Mark Keller, 55, lives up the street. He walked his dog Zingo past the store. He said he wanted to see it for himself.

“I need to process what happened,” he said. “I know people who work there, and with 10 dead there is a possibility that I might know who they are.”

The Boulder Police Department released the names of the victims Tuesday along with the identity of the shooter, 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa of nearby Arvada, who was wounded in the attack and has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder. He is being treated in a local hospital.

“I have lived here for 25 years, and nothing like this has happened,” Keller said. “But Colorado is no stranger to this.”

He looked over the fence. The names of past mass shootings in the state went unspoken. But they were there: Columbine, Aurora, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

“It’s quiet out here, but it’s probably gruesome inside,” he said.

The slain officer, Eric Talley, had seven children and had been on the police force for 11 years. He is the sixth officer killed in the line of duty in the city. In June 2013, the Boulder Daily Camera chronicled how Talley and two other officers rescued a family of ducklings from a drainage ditch in South Boulder.

“I can tell you he was a very kind man,” said Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold at a news conference Tuesday. “He loved this community, he cared about the Boulder Police Department. He cared about his family, and he was willing to die to protect others.”

A young man who identified himself only as Bergen stood outside the store.

“I came here to honor the victims and to honor the fallen officer,” said the 35-year-old. “I grew up here, went to high school here, and I still come in this store to buy snacks before hiking.”

He said he owns an AR-15 rifle, similar to the weapon authorities say the gunman used. A Colorado judge recently blocked Boulder from enforcing its two-year-old ban on assault weapons.

“I am happy to have it but wish I didn’t need to have it,” he said. “I like the way it looks, but I’m not extreme. If the government wanted to buy it back from me, I’d sell it to them.”

Mark Keenan, 56, and his wife, Susan Wortman, 58, stood outside the store.

“I look at this and ask myself what am I going to do about it, what are you doing to do about it?” said Keenan. “King Soopers employed my daughters. We know a lot of people who work there. We are all vulnerable. We live with all these physical and psychological barriers otherwise we probably couldn’t go on.”

Despite the fact that little has changed politically in the wake of mass shootings, they still hold out some hope.

“Maybe this can move the needle,” Wortman said.

Kelly is a special correspondent.