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Boulder, CO Community Rattled by Grocery Store Mass Shooting

One police officer and nine grocery store shoppers were killed at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, on March 23. The suspect has been named and charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

This is the seventh mass shooting to occur in the United States in the last week that has left at least four people dead. 

It was a normal Monday: The Colorado front range was expecting another snow storm—potentially another 2-8 inches added to the 30 inches from last week. The victims were normal people, picking up groceries ahead of the storm and some were getting vaccines.

Police were called to the grocery store at around 2:30 p.m. after multiple reports of gunfire. Some calls reported a man in a “tactical” or “armored” vest who was killing people in the parking lot and inside the store. Police scanners reported at 3:21 p.m. that they were in a gunfight and actively being shot at. Around 3:28 p.m. the suspect was taken into custody. The arrest warrant affidavit cites that he was unwilling to answer questions.

Among those killed was Rikki Olds, manager of the King Soopers, who was “so energetic and charismatic, and she was a shining light in this dark world,” her uncle Bob Olds said in an interview with CNN. The first officer at the scene, Eric Talley, 51 years old, also died trying to take down the gunman. He leaves behind seven children. On Talley’s bravery, his father said, “It didn’t surprise me that he was the first one there.” The names and ages of the other victims are as follows: Denny Stong, 20, Neven Stanisic, 23, Tralona Bartkowiak, 49, Suzanne Fountain, 59, Teri Leiker, 51, Kevin Mahoney, 61, Lynn Murray, 62, and Jody Waters, 65.

Investigators are still trying to figure out much of what happened, including motivation and context. The name of the suspect was released the day following the massacre: Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa. He is 21. Alissa’s brother told CNN that he had become “increasingly paranoid,” often thinking he was being followed, chased, recorded and investigated. His family immigrated to the United States from Syria in 2002. On March 18, 2019, he published on Facebook, “Just curious what are the laws about phone privacy because I believe my old school (Arvada West) was hacking my phone.” Alissa’s brother stated that in high school, other students would make fun of him for his name or for being Muslim. Alissa’s brother believes this may have contributed to his being “anti-social.” Alissa was sentenced to probation and community service after a third-degree assault in 2018, for an event that happened the year prior. Alissa’s sister said he was not political or religious, and she had never heard him threaten violence. However, two days before the massacre, Alissa’s family saw him playing with a gun.

Just 10 days before the massacre, a Boulder court blocked a two-year old ban on assault rifles that was meant to prevent mass shootings. The court ruled that only the state can create bans. It is important to note that the gunman was from Arvada, 30 minutes from Boulder, where no assault rifle ban was in place.

Brian Herndon, associate professor of Teacher Education at JBU, earned his Master’s from the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1995. “I had shopped in that King Soopers, I know exactly where it is,” Herndon said. He checked in on his friends that live in the Boulder area over Facebook and noted what an average activity the victims were engaged in. “We all go to the grocery store,” Herndon said.

“Bullying is harmful to the mind, heart, and soul,” Herndon said in regards to Alissa’s brother’s suggestion of bullying as motivation. “When we look back at Columbine, the two men were marginalized and bullied, which in no way excuses what they did, but those can be painful experiences.”

Herndon said the Boulder community is trusting, open-minded, accepting and that they prioritize diversity of thought and community. “An event like this in the Boulder community, but in every community really, feels like a violation of trust and of who they are. The community is more favorable to gun restrictions, and so for someone to use a weapon that could cause so much harm is a violation.” 

Herndon was teaching Kindergarten in Thornton, Colorado, during the Columbine shooting in 1999. He remembers locking down the classroom. In regards to why events like this seem to happen more in Colorado, Herndon said “Colorado is a purple state and has had conflicting political ideology. But it’s a hard question and there is no easy answer.”

Sam Heinrich, associate professor of business at JBU, attended the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs campus and has worked in the front range area. “I don’t know of any specific causation in Colorado’s horrific events that is unique to them,” he said. “Colorado has had the misfortune of experiencing events of this nature at an alarming frequency.”

When asked why Colorado seems to attract evil acts of this nature, Heinrich said, “Anyone familiar with Colorado knows it to be a beautiful place to live, rich with natural splendor and life fulfilling opportunities. It is a great place to raise families and is blessed with excellent recreational and economic opportunities,” he said. “Blame is better placed at the degrading of our culture and a loss of biblical based morality. Rather than seeking to lay blame to some institutional framework, we should recognize the spiritual forces at work that have a hand in these unspeakable deeds and continue to erode our traditional societal values.”

“When events like this occur in familiar areas, it certainly challenges your personal sense of security and can quickly devolve into fear. I worked in Aurora for several years and am familiar with the movie theatre from an earlier shooting. Although we tend to dismiss these events as rare and random, they do make us aware of evil and danger in our world. It reminds me of the fragileness and preciousness of life,” Heinrich said. “As a Christian, I believe in God’s sovereignty that transcends these events so I seek to redouble my eternal security in Him. Although we grieve for the loss of life and the stain that stays with the community, we are reminded that God’s redemptive work goes forward even in the most unimaginable tragedies.”

Maddie Altman, junior business management major and member of the JBU women’s basketball team, grew up in Arvada, 30 minutes from Boulder. “It’s obviously heartbreaking and doesn’t make sense, but seeing all of the people in Boulder come together no matter the age or whether you go to the University of Colorado or not, is incredible,” Altman said. “They lit up the star in Boulder which rarely gets lit up other than for Christmas. And while it may not seem like it because of the tragedy, the community will be stronger- now more than ever. It really shows how much we value life, friends, and family because we really don’t know when goodbye will be-.”