Boulder marks upcoming one year anniversary of massacre at King Soopers | Subscriber-Only Content
BOULDER — Almost one year after a gunman killed 10 people in a mass shooting at a neighborhood supermarket, the language and symbols of a community united in mourning are less omnipresent than they were.
Boulder Strong signs no longer hang in every single window. The fence around the King Soopers, erected to block off the crime scene but quickly repurposed as a grassroots memorial, came down last summer. The store reopened in February, after a whole-cloth remodel and with a facade that looks nothing like before.
Pedestrians walk down Broadway past Community Banks of Colorado on Spruce Street, where cutout letter spell out “BOULDER STRONG” on Friday, March 18, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)
Despite the visuals, make no mistake: This mountain oasis, defined by arts and outdoors, happiness and herbal tea, is still processing its grief and making peace, if such a thing is possible.
“It’s definitely been a rough year, trying to grow from that and learn from all those experiences that I’ve been through. It’s not getting any easier, and it never will be honestly, without her,” said 21-year-old Matisse Molina, whose friend Tralona Bartkowiak — a woman who wasn’t just her boss at Umba clothing store but a “mom and sister, in one person” — was killed in the shooting. “It’s taken a really big hit on my life. It was honestly one of the worst days of my life.”
And in the life of the city she calls home.
Umba employee Matisse Molina, who worked with and was friends with Tralona “Lonna” Bartkowiak, who was one of ten victims in a mass shooting at the King Supers grocery store nearly a year ago and was the owner of Umba, poses for a portrait in the store on Friday, March 18, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)
On the afternoon of March 22, 2021, then-21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol in the King Soopers parking lot before moving inside to stalk the aisles. Ambulance crews from around the region responded to a scene that — uncharacteristically, tragically — had only one memorable, transportable injury: Alissa, who was shot in the leg prior to being taken into custody.
Those he killed were 20-year-old Denny Stong, Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Teri Leiker, 51; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; Jody Waters, 65; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49, and Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley.
Talley was one of the first officers on the scene at 3600 Table Mesa Drive. The 51-year-old officer, who’d made the jump to law enforcement after a successful career in information technology, was a father of seven.
Boulder Police officer David Middlebrooks straightens a photo of slain officer Eric Talley, who was killed while responding to the mass shooting at the King Soopers grocery store on Table Mesa Drive nearly one year ago, at a memorial site including a police cruiser set up in front of the police department on Friday, March 18, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)
Friday morning, the department ceremonially parked a patrol car in front of the station and set out a poster-sized photo of Talley. They will remain there through Tuesday, as a place for community members to leave memorial notes, flowers and other items.
Flowers set on the hood of a police cruiser outside the department by Boulder police officer Brian Rech can be seen at the memorial set up for slain officer Eric Talley, who was killed nearly a year ago while responding to the mass shooting at the King Soopers on Table Mesa Drive, on Friday, March 18, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)
“We did do this last year, and folks asked us … they wanted to pay their respects and asked how they could do it,” said Dionne Waugh, spokesperson for the Boulder police, adding that the last year had been “a very challenging” one for her department – and likely will continue to be. “I think this time of year is always going to bring up a lot of emotions in everybody, and it affects everybody differently.”
In the months after Talley was killed, the department added his name to a memorial stone slab out front, as well as to a digital memorial display dedicated to fallen officers in the lobby. Officer Talley’s death also carved a mark on the department in other, less publicly-visible ways, Waugh said.
Boulder Police Department Cmrd. Barry Hartkopp, right, and Deputy Chief Stephen Redfearn look on after a cruiser was parked in front of the police department to serve as a memorial for Officer Eric Talley, who was killed while responding to the mass shooting at the King Soopers grocery store on Table Mesa Drive nearly one year ago, as seen on Friday, March 18, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. A memorial of Boulder Police officers killed in the line of duty bears officer Talley’s name behind the two men. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)
Boulder Police Department Cmrd. Barry Hartkopp pauses to touch the names of Officer Beth Haynes, killed in 1994, and Officer Eric Talley, who was killed while responding to the mass shooting at the King Soopers grocery store on Table Mesa Drive nearly one year ago, as seen on Friday, March 18, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)
“We’ve had officers … who have retired early and left in part or in large part because of last year’s tragedy. We’ve had people join the profession inspired to protect their community because of Eric’s sacrifice,” she said.
How the survivors of tragedy process emotions, and sometimes don’t, is something Julie Ratinoff sees on a daily basis as an art-based clinician and interim manager at the nonprofit Boulder Strong Resource Center.
Julie Ratinoff, MA, LPCC, an art based clinician serving as the interim manager of the #BoulderStrong Resource Center, poses for a portrait in the activity room of the resource center on Friday, March 18, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)
The center is a hub where those impacted by the shooting can get support and services. It was initially housed near the King Soopers on Table Mesa but moved to a building on Baseline Road last summer. The center is an art-filled space with comfy furniture, a lounge area and private rooms where people can get one-on-one counseling and trauma support, massage, yoga, as well as engage in a range of therapy.
Because there is no “right way” to process grief or trauma.
“Trauma affects people in many different ways, and one thing we know is that not everyone is affected right away or is not aware that they’re affected,” Ratinoff said. “So we see people that are just starting to come in now. We have … King Soopers employees that are regulars that have been coming in from the get-go. We may see people in a couple years that were affected.”
Nonetheless, last week she said the center had seen an uptick of people in need, and she expected to see more still as the anniversary approaches.
“We definitely expect to be pretty busy next week, and then after that,” Ratinoff said. “We see more people generally around anniversaries and holidays. But other days can be a trigger. A cloudy day. A Monday. All of those things that happened on that day can be events that trigger people.”
The center also has a room with a big-screen TV where court hearings can be viewed in an environment where victims can also get the cushion of clinical support and peer support, if needed.
“That’s also very triggering, and if you’ve been following the court proceedings it’s been going very slowly … so it’s going to be really hard for the victims’ families,” Ratinoff said.
“As we know healing is also tied into seeking that justice piece, and if that’s not happening it’s really hard for people to fully heal and move on.”
The man accused in the massacre faces 115 charges, including 10 counts of first-degree murder, and is undergoing mental health treatment for competence to stand trial.
A person’s competence depends on them having a rational understanding of the case against them and the ability to participate in their own defense, and medical experts found Alissa incompetent last year. A recent court filing, however, indicates they believe he can likely have his competency restored with treatment and stand trial within a “reasonable” window of time.
His case has a status hearing scheduled for April 15.
Meanwhile, the city whose tranquility and illusions he shattered has made plans to take back the day:
Memorial celebrations are planned for the Tuesday afternoon, at locations including the downtown bandshell in the city’s central park.
The King Soopers on Table Mesa Drive, however, will be closed Tuesday to memorialize the deaths.
The store first reopened in early February after months of renovations, and after considering whether to reopen the Boulder store at all, said a spokesperson for the store. Employees, however, soon made it clear they “wanted their home back.”
Spokesperson Jessica Trowbridge previously said about 50% of the people who worked at the store before the shooting chose to return, to a location that no longer resembles the place they used to work. “Table Mesa” has been added to the store’s exterior sign. A mural of mountains and aspen trees titled “A New Day” by Boulder artist Lael Har adored a wall of the new vestibule. The upstairs break room, decked out in Broncos orange and navy, included the phrase “Table Mesa Strong” painted on one wall.
Art, and visuals, have a power that can be tough to quantify in words.
Ross Taylor, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, has given people impacted by the massacre an outlet for processing their grief through a portrait series, which is on display at the Museum of Boulder. He choked up when he talked about seeing how much it meant to Boulder’s police chief, Maris Herold, to participate when he saw her on the exhibit’s opening day.
Loveland resident Sarah Saxe pauses to read the artists statement by photojournalist and University of Colorado Boulder professor Ross Taylor, who made portraits of many of the people that who were willing to share their stories about the mass shooting at the Table Mesa King Soopers grocery store which is part of the “Boulder Strong: Still Strong, Remembering March 2021” exhibit at the Museum of Boulder on Friday, March 18, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)
“She said, ‘You did it right. You brought our community together,’ and that’s a nice compliment from somebody who I know has navigated a lot of very difficult moments.”
Quite a few officers ended up participating in the project. Taylor said it meant a lot to have the police department involved because it lends an important perspective of the scale of the tragedy’s response and impact.
Portraits, by photojournalist and University of Colorado Boulder professor Ross Taylor, of many of the people that who were willing to share their stories about the mass shooting at the Table Mesa King Soopers can be seen at “Boulder Strong: Still Strong, Remembering March 2021” exhibit at the Museum of Boulder on Friday, March 18, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)
“These are people just like you and I; people who deeply care about the community. I feel lucky and truly honored, sincerely, to be able to bear witness to that and to have a better understanding of the mapping of the event.”
Also among his subjects was Jen Douglas, a CU student who was at the store during the massacre. She brought the clothing she wore that day to have her portrait taken, which she hadn’t worn since. Taylor took her portrait at the Boulder Strong Resource Center.
The experience gave her “a moment of reclamation, putting the clothing back on and being photographed in that, and feeling comfortable and strong,” she said.
Also part of the exhibit is a collection of artifacts, items and notes salvaged from memorial sites in the weeks and months after the tragedy. Those items were collected and curated by Chelsea Pennington Hahn, the Curator of Collections at the Museum of Boulder. She said that she and her colleagues recognized immediately after the shooting that their roles and lives were about to take a turn.
“We pretty quickly realized that we are the main physical repository for objects related to Boulder history, so that would be our responsibility, to preserve this moment in Boulder history, and the story,” Hahn said. “And not just the event itself, but the community response as it unfolded over months. And at the time we didn’t know what that was going to look like.”
Hahn went out daily to photograph the fence and other memorial sites as they evolved.
“I went out probably about once a week or so for the two and a half months it was up, collecting objects sort of focusing on things that would be easily damaged by rain and snow… always making sure that objects had been out there for at least a couple of weeks, because we really wanted to treat it like it was a memorial first because it was,” Hahn said. Then, “there was a really bad wind storm. The fence was getting knocked down. The city was, like, we need to do something, things aren’t safe here.”
A selection of those collected memorials are on display at the Boulder museum. Thousands more are stored in museum space off-site.
“Boulder Strong: Still Strong” runs through April 10, and elements will be incorporated into a permanent exhibit.
“We’re planning to expand or add a piece of that into our permanent experience, ‘The Boulder Experience’ that really focuses on the history of Boulder and what makes us who we are,” Hahn said. “And this is part of us now. This is a part of our history.”
The Boulder museum normally is closed on Tuesdays, but it will be open on March 22 to serve as a community gathering place and touchstone for anyone who needs it.
Admission on March 22 is free.