After tragedy, one town reopens the doors

Nearly a year beyond the King Soopers mass shooting, Boulder residents ask: What does it mean to heal?

BOULDER, Colo. — As Marie Banich drove past her local grocery last year, she started shaking. “I could just tell that something was so wrong,” she said.

Emergency responders had converged on the Table Mesa King Soopers, where a gunman had opened fire.

Nearly a year later, Banich and her wife were among the first customers inside the remodeled store.

After a ceremony Wednesday that involved ribbons, red carpets and moments of silence, employees and customers poured back in, a milestone for a city still mourning its first mass shooting and a recent fire that destroyed more than 1,100 homes and businesses.

Chelsea Pennington Hahn

Curator of collections at the Museum of Boulder. Pennington Hahn recovered items from the memorial fence last year to preserve them for history.
Listen to Chelsea

For Gage Price-Gaw, the reopening offered a sense of relief.

Price-Gaw was working at King Soopers when the shooting started. He can count on one hand the things that saved him that day: His proximity to the back doors, where he had been processing a load of produce. That the doors were unlocked, a rarity spurred by a late delivery. That he immediately knew it was gunfire.

Customers and employees scrambled out the back door. Ten people — including an Instacart shopper and a Boulder police officer — didn’t make it.

Since then, Price-Gaw has struggled with periodic flashbacks from that day. One time, a popping balloon brought a rush of adrenaline. “It took me a good 15 minutes to calm down after that,” he said. “The Fourth of July was rough.”

But he’s excited to get back to a new normal. “Let me go back,” he told his managers. “Just let me go back and do something.”

Lael Har

Artist and South Boulder resident. She painted the mural at the front of the new King Soopers.
Listen to Lael

Joel Giltner was glad to be back, too. Like Price-Gaw, he has been working at a different King Soopers for the past several months.

But just a few hours into his first day back at work, his nervous system went into overdrive. “I was freaking out. Paranoid,” he said. “Even with the armed guards up front — it was unsettling.” Though he has been looking forward to working at the renovated store, he says he has built a mental map of where the victims fell.

Though many workers and managers will be familiar to longtime customers, not everyone has chosen to return.

Louis Saxton

A University of Colorado at Boulder student and survivor. He played the cello at the memorial fence for 10 days to honor the 10 victims.
Listen to Louis

Leland Boutilier left Boulder altogether a few weeks after the March 22 shooting, which he experienced while staffing the self-checkout lanes at the front of the store. Though he spent a few months working at another King Soopers store about 60 miles away, he has since left the company.

“I had a little bit of survivor’s guilt,” he said. And he still doesn’t understand why, after a first burst of collective grief, the world “memory holed” the tragedy. “Nobody seemed to talk about it anymore,” he said.

Adrian Drelles was on the front lines during the attack last year. A patrol sergeant with the Boulder Police Department, he supervised the response to the shooting that day. One of his direct reports, Eric Talley, was killed in the rampage.

A frenzy of activity followed: coordinating with other first responders, assisting prosecutors, delivering Talley’s eulogy. But after the dust settled, he had to grapple with the loss of his friend.

Leland Boutilier

A survivor and former King Soopers employee who was working at the self-checkout area of the store during the shooting
Listen to Leland

“He was incredibly social, almost to a fault,” recalls Drelles. “That vibrant, enthusiastic personality doesn’t get replaced.”

Drelles, who grew up in Boulder, was not surprised by the outpouring of love that followed the shooting. But he wishes people outside of the community could recognize that each mass-casualty event creates holes like the one Talley left behind.

“While the rest of the world go on, the people involved will never be whole again,” he said. Even so, he said, “the community is ready to move forward. They want their neighborhood back.”

Boulder resident Chris DiGiano knows something about that. After the shooting, he wanted to find a way to channel grief into community-building. So he put out a call via social media for a neighborhood meeting.

Anna Haynes

Witnessed the event from her apartment window
Listen to Anna

The nonprofit SoBo Rising grew out of that gathering. The organization has supported the Museum of Boulder’s preservation of artifacts left at the memorial fence around the store, and helped the city’s public art program with an art installation at the site in July.

In September, it threw a community sidewalk social at the shopping center where the shooting occurred.

While DiGiano said it’s too early to talk about healing, he has discovered that there’s plenty of hope to be had in South Boulder. “We have the ability to lean on each other,” he said, “and find some thread to hold onto.”

Since his older sister Suzanne was killed at the store, Phil Fountain has found meaning in fighting for tougher gun-control laws.

His advocacy with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence has given his life a new focus. But at first, he said, he was paralyzed. “What’s the [expletive] point of getting out of bed if you can’t go to the grocery store and be safe?”

Jen Douglas

A survivor. Douglas, then a University of Colorado student, was in the parking lot of the King Soopers when the gunman opened fire.
Listen to Jen

Fountain thought again and again about his last communication with his sister — a voice mail she left him on his birthday in February 2021. “I never called her back,” he said. “But she wouldn’t have held that against me.”

“Part of me wants to say life is for the living and we have to keep on living,” Fountain said. But he struggles. He doesn’t live in Boulder, and he isn’t sure he’ll ever go back. It’s too saturated with memories of Suzanne — an actress, Medicare counselor and “scrappy” life force.

Phil’s grief has brought him closer to his family. It also brought him to the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, where he and others who lost loved ones to gun violence protested an attempt to overturn a New York gun-control law.

For Fountain, pushing to tighten gun laws is a way to keep his sister’s legacy alive. “We don’t have to live like this,” he said. “It’s in our power to change this.”

Chris DiGiano

A longtime Boulder resident. After the shooting, he started a nonprofit to support members of the community impacted by the shooting.
Listen to Chris

The reopened store is unlike any other King Soopers — it was designed with input from the community and staff members.

It offers skylights, large windows and wider aisles. This summer, a memorial garden will commemorate those who were lost.

As Banich and her wife, Laura Edwards, entered the renovated store, they paused to look at the mural, the shelves stocked with food, the rows of meticulously arranged fruit and vegetables. They were delighted to find that the flow of the store is mostly the same as before the tragedy.

“Like an old friend,” says Banich. “You know they’ve changed, but they’re sort of the same.”

Sammie Lawrence IV

A survivor. He was in the store during the shooting and helped people escape.
Listen to Sammie

Customers greeted neighbors and familiar staffers. Exclamations of recognition and surprise echoed through the store, punctuated by the steady beeps of grocery scanners. Edwards wrapped her arm around Banich’s back as they walked.

They decided to buy some food: a box of tea and a bottle of peanut sauce. Before they left, the cashier pushed her fingers through the plastic screen that separated them and squeezed Banich’s hand. “Thanks for coming in,” she said.

About this story

Editing by Amanda Erickson. Photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof. Audio production by Robin Amer. Mixing by Sean Carter. Design and development by Leo Dominguez. Design editing by Madison Walls. Copy editing by Stu Werner.