BOULDER, Colo — Hundreds of mourners gathered in downtown Boulder as dusk fell Wednesday night, as the city continues to mourn the devastating shooting that stunned the nation.
As a string quartet played while a news helicopter clattered overhead, mourners held candles and flowers to pay their respects and called for a more loving and supportive world following the attack that left 10 dead at a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder on Monday.
“I felt like I needed, as a part of humanity, to pay my respects,” said Marla Romero, 53, who used to work in Boulder.
The attack was the seventh mass killing this year in the U.S., following the March 16 shooting that left eight people dead at three Atlanta-area massage businesses, according to a database compiled by the AP, USA TODAY and Northeastern University.
It follows a lull in mass killings during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which had the smallest number of such attacks in eight years, according to the database, which tracks mass killings defined as four or more dead, not including the shooter.
The Boulder and Atlanta-area shootings prompted President Joe Biden to call on Congress to tighten the nation’s gun laws. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to bring forward two House-passed bills to require expanded background checks for gun buyers. Biden supports the measures, but they face a tougher route to passage in a closely divided Senate with a slim Democratic majority.
Biden reached out to the mayor of Boulder, Colorado, on Wednesday, offering condolences and federal resources.
“I just received a call from @POTUS extending his condolences and support to the Boulder community as we begin our healing,” Mayor Sam Weaver said on a Twitter post. “The President was clearly pained by our losses, and offered any resources we need. I thanked him sincerely on behalf of everyone in Boulder.”
A makeshift memorial outside the King Soopers supermarket where the shooting took place was growing, and vigils were planned across a city still reeling from the brutality of the attack.
The Boulder City Council scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday night to address the tragedy and honor the 10 people killed in the carnage.
The city posted a notice on Twitter that no volunteers or food donations were needed, and offers of monetary assistance were being directed to the Colorado State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police, the Boulder County Injured & Fallen Officer Fund and the Colorado Healing Fund.
“We have received an outpouring of support from across the nation,” city officials said. “Thank you everyone for your outpouring of kindness during this difficult time for our community.”
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The Boulder victims were identified as Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Eric Talley, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jodi Waters, 65.
Leiker, Olds and Stong worked at the supermarket, co-workers said. Talley was the first police officer on the scene. Homer Talley, 74, described his son as a devoted father who “knew the Lord.” He had seven children, ages 7 to 20.
At the vigil, nearly a dozen law enforcement officers stood guard — normally they would have been Boulder police officers, but instead, it was park rangers and state troopers and county sheriffs deputies who stepped in. Several held bouquets of flowers handed to them by mourners.
As darkness fell, Anna Chensny, 24, silenced the crowd with a solo version of Ave Maria, moving several attendees to tears and sobs.
Chensny, who lives in Boulder, said she volunteered to perform because her training as a mental health therapist is not yet complete, but she is a professionally trained singer.
She said she had a panic attack in her car Tuesday night after going grocery shopping.
“I found this one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” she said of her performance Wednesday night. “It’s hard to share your voice when you’re shaking with tears.”
Earlier Wednesday, the Boulder Police Department invited the public to show support for Talley by witnessing a police procession as his body was taken from the coroner’s office to a funeral home in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
Red and blue lights flashed along a parkway as dozens of officers from Boulder and neighboring departments stood at attention. When the hearse passed, the officers saluted as one shouted, “Attention!” One person held an American flag.
Emily Giffen, 27, told the Associated Press that she was smoking outside the store Monday during a break when she heard multiple loud pops that she knew were not fireworks. She said she saw a man running across an intersection suddenly fall over and another man approach him in a crouch and fire several rounds at close range.
“I just really am having a hard time understanding why me and my friends deserve to die,” she said, wondering why the gunman chose to target the Boulder store specifically. “It doesn’t seem personal, so I don’t quite get why we pulled that lottery ticket.”
The suspect in the attack, described by friends and family as angry, violent and paranoid, faces a court appearance Thursday on charges of first-degree murder. Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, will be advised at the hearing of the charges he faces and his rights as a defendant. He won’t enter a plea until later in the judicial process, and a defense lawyer has not been listed in court records.
Alissa bought a Ruger AR-556 assault weapon six days before the shootings, according to an arrest affidavit. It also says the suspect had left a rifle — “possibly” an AR-15 — and a semiautomatic handgun in the store when he was shot by police and taken into custody.
Police Chief Maris Herold, who said she lives three blocks from the supermarket and frequently shops there, said no motive for the attack has been established.
About 100 people mourned Tuesday night at the makeshift memorial, which was adorned with wreaths, candles, banners reading “#Boulderstrong” and 10 crosses with blue hearts and the victims’ names. Therapy dogs were on hand to provide comfort.
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Four girls huddled in the cold, one of them crying as she recalled how young people had rallied against gun violence after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That rampage, on Valentine’s Day, left 17 people dead.
Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina died in Parkland, tweeted support for Boulder and for the families of victims in Georgia, where 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long is accused of killing eight people at three massage spas in and around Atlanta last week.
“My prayers are with the victims’ families, first responders & others impacted by the recent shootings in Atlanta & Boulder,” he tweeted. “These acts of violence are evil.”
The movement that spawned out of the Parkland shooting, the March for Our Lives, marked three years since over 1 million students demonstrated against gun violence in Washington, D.C., and around the globe Thursday.
“Our country is in a constant cycle of violence and apathy, and it’s hard to watch more communities grieve when all we wanted 3 years ago, and all we want today, is for people to live free from gun violence,” the organizers tweeted, adding that they “mourned” for the lives of the victims in Boulder and in Atlanta.
Family members described Alissa as paranoid and antisocial, and his brother said he believes his younger sibling is mentally ill.
Alissa, a resident of the Denver suburb of Arvada, went to the King Soopers in Boulder – about 20 miles away – with two weapons, according to an arrest affidavit. He shot and killed 10 people, police say, before surrendering with a leg wound after stripping down to his shorts.
Ali Alissa, 34, told CNN his brother was bullied in high school for being Muslim and became antisocial and increasingly paranoid around 2014. As a high school senior in 2018, Ahmad Alissa was found guilty of assaulting a fellow student in class after knocking him to the floor and punching him in the head several times, according to a police affidavit that said Alissa complained the student had called him “racial names.”
Contributing: The Associated Press