'The world got dimmer': Shooting victims' lives remembered
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — One victim of the Colorado supermarket shooting was leaving after fixing a coffee machine. Another worked at the store but was only there because he stopped in to shop during his time off. A third was a police officer who was first to answer the 911 calls.
Some died just as they began adulthood. Others were on the verge of milestones: an upcoming marriage, a new grandchild. A few were visible parts of life in the Rocky Mountain foothills city of Boulder, owning or working in downtown shops and appearing in local theater productions.
The 10 deaths Monday left a trail of pain from California to southeastern Europe.
The victims were Tralona “Lonna” Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; Rikki Olds, 25; Neven Stanisic, 23; Denny Stong, 20; police Officer Eric Talley, 51; and Jodi Waters, 65.
He had finished a job — fixing a coffee machine at the Starbucks inside the King Soopers grocery store — and was in his car, getting ready to go to another assignment, when the gunman opened fire in the parking lot, said Father Radovan Petrovic, the parish priest at the Stanisic family's church.
Born in the Denver area to Serbian refugees from Bosnia, Stanisic lived in suburban Lakewood. After graduating in 2016 from Alameda International Jr./Sr. High School, he went to work with his father at a company that maintains commercial coffee and juice machines, said Petrovic of St. John the Baptist Serbian Orthodox Church.
Stanisic was an “all-around good person, quiet boy, very well mannered — respectful of others and older people — and hardworking person,” the priest said.
Stanisic's parents came to the U.S. in 1998 after losing everything in their war-torn homeland, where conflict followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Over 100,000 people were killed, and more than 2 million were driven from their homes.
The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has lowered its flag to half-staff in honor of the victims, noting Stanisic's roots in the country.
“They survived the war and came here to start to have a new life, a better life. And then to have this happen to them — it’s mind-blowing," Petrovic said.
Just this September, she helped her friend Sarah Lewis endure her grief after losing a loved one to a shooting in September.
“I would not have gotten through it without her. She is the one who I cried to every day about it, and she just listened, and when so many other people couldn’t listen to me cry anymore,” Lewis said. “She was the kindest, sweetest, most generous, just warm-hearted friend.”
When the two celebrated Lewis’ birthday last week, Bartkowiak — who went by Lonna — was delighted to see her friend doing better.
“I couldn’t have done it without her,” Lewis said, choking back sobs, “and so I am like, ‘What do we do now?’”
Lewis said she had been looking forward to planning a bachelorette party for her friend, who got engaged on Christmas Day.
A memorial filled with candles and flowers grew outside Umba, the clothing and accessories shop that Bartkowiak ran with her sister on Boulder’s popular Pearl Street Mall.
“You would go in her store and put something on, and she would make you feel like such a goddess, no matter what it was,” said Stefanie Clarke. She recalled chatting with Bartkowiak a couple of weeks ago about how eager they were to go to concerts and festivals after a year of coronavirus cancellations.
“I know she was just as excited as any of us to put on her dancing pants and get back to it,” Clarke said, fighting tears.
Lewis, who sells jewelry online, said Bartkowiak let many local artists sell their pieces in her shop.
Tricia Hunter, a manager at the Savory Spice store next door, said Bartkowiak was dedicated to her business and worked hard but “I rarely saw her in a bad mood.”
“She was a very free spirit, kind to everyone, always smiling, always happy,” said Hunter, who went to Umba to borrow shipping boxes and saw Bartkowiak on Sunday. Her death the next day was a shock.
“It is pretty heartbreaking that somebody is just running to the store to get something, and a gunman is there shooting people, and you get killed,” she said.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, she worked at a downtown Boulder boutique called Island Farm.
The store staff was like a family, and Waters helped it feel like home, they said.
“She immediately took me under her wing, treating me like her own daughter,” said Madeline Soultz, 23, a former sales associate whose family lives far away.
Store manager Lily Rood, 26, said Waters, who had two daughters and a son, was “a mother to all the girls here.”
Island Farm opened its doors to customers, friends and loved ones who came to reminisce about Waters — her penchant for collecting heart-shaped leaves on hikes, her animal-print decor at home, her get-togethers with co-workers over margaritas and the advice she gave.
“You could go to her with any problem,” Soultz said. Waters wasn’t shy about letting people know if they made mistakes, but “she knew your potential, even if you didn’t know it.”
Boutique owner Jen Haney added, “The world got dimmer without her.”
He was off the clock when he stopped in to shop at the grocery store and ended up in the line of fire, said co-worker Emily Giffen, who was on a smoke break when shots initially erupted outside the store.
Stong, whose mother also works at the store, was studying to become a pilot, Giffen said. In the meantime, he was a “goofball” who provided comic relief when his co-workers needed it.
“If you needed to laugh, he would always tell me these horrible dad jokes,” Giffen said. “He was a really well-rounded person and really a lot, a lot that he was still going to do.”
He joined the police force in Boulder in 2010 with a background that included a master’s degree in computer communications, his father said.
“At age 40, he decided he wanted to serve his community,” Homer “Shay” Talley, 74, told The Associated Press from his ranch in central Texas. “He left his desk job. He just wanted to serve, and that’s what he did. He just enjoyed the police family.”
Eric Talley was the first to arrive after a call about shots being fired and someone carrying a rifle, Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said.
Talley was “by all accounts, one of the outstanding officers” in the department, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said.
Talley’s father said his son — who had seven children, ages 7 to 20 — was a devoted father who “knew the Lord.”
“When everyone else in the parking lot was running away, he ran toward it,” Shay Talley said.
“We know where he is,” he added. “He loved his family more the anything. He wasn’t afraid of dying. He was afraid of putting them through it.”
Talley grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was “the most liked person in our class,” said elementary school classmate Kerry O’Bryant, who started a fundraiser for Talley’s children.
“He wasn’t necessarily Mr. Jock or Mr. Popularity or whatever, but everybody liked Eric. There was nobody who didn’t,” O’Bryant told the Albuquerque Journal.
“If there was anyone who was potentially going to be able to go in and defuse a bad situation, it was him — because he was such a lovable person,” O’Bryant said.
A longtime King Soopers employee, she was a “spitfire” who felt free to yell “hello" across the store when colleagues came in to work, Giffen said.
“She wore her emotions on her sleeve, and whatever she felt was what she felt, and you could never shame her for it,” Giffen said. She said Leiker was dating a co-worker and that the two complemented each other.
Leiker loved to watch the University of Colorado marching band perform in a kickoff celebration called the Pearl Street Stampede on Friday nights before home football games on the Boulder campus, band director Matt Dockendorf told The Denver Post.
“She was there even before we started gathering, which is half an hour before the stampede started,” Dockendorf said. “She was just a staple. She was kind of a personal cheerleader for the band.”
An actress who performed in Boulder and Denver, ran a music venue and helped people navigate the Medicare system, she was known for her deep caring and commitment to those she loved.
Within a day of her death, her life partner, Phi Bernier, was flooded with calls and text messages from people she had connected with over the years.
“I’ve never been loved like the way she loved me,” said Bernier, an actor who first met Fountain about 30 years ago when they were playing lead roles in “The Glass Menagerie.”
They dated for a time, went their separate ways and reconnected in 2013 after Fountain spotted his name in an ad for a show at the Boulder theater where they first met. She went to see it with her son, Nathaniel Getz.
Fountain trained at the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York and worked as a financial counselor at Boulder Community Hospital before becoming a Medicare agent who helped people sign up for the federal health care program, according to a biography released by her family. It also noted that she was a strong feminist and great hostess.
In her work, Fountain “never skimped. She never did something because it was easier,” Bernier said.
Until the pandemic, Fountain worked as the house manager at eTown, a Boulder nonprofit organization that hosts concerts, which are nationally broadcast by radio.
“Suzanne was a bright light to all she met, and we were proud to have her represent eTown in our community as she welcomed people into our space hundreds and hundreds of times,” the organization said in a Facebook post.
Fountain won praise for her acting from both reviewers and those who worked with her.
“She was absolutely lovely, a natural, someone you simply didn’t forget,” Brian Miller, who worked with her on a show, told The Denver Post.
A Boulder Daily Camera review said her 2002 performance as a nurse in “Wit,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a woman dealing with cancer, brought “a simple but crucial compassion to the play.”
He “represents all things Love,” his daughter Erika Mahoney said in a poignant tweet that featured a wedding photo and drew wide attention on social media.
“I’m so thankful he could walk me down the aisle last summer,” added Mahoney, who is the news director at a California public radio station.
She told NPR in an interview that aired Wednesday that the pandemic had almost forced her to reschedule the wedding, which she and her husband decided to hold in a small backyard ceremony with their families.
Erika Mahoney said her father had tried to hold back his tears “in big life moments for me, like when he took me to the airport for college, but really, it’s just his softness shining through,” she said. “I admire my dad so much, and that’s why I picked that photo, because I’m looking up at him.”
She also tweeted that she's pregnant and knows her father “wants me to be strong for his granddaughter.”
Erika Mahoney said her father was shopping at King Soopers when he was killed. As news of his death became public, she said, friends texted her that he was like a father to them as well.
“One death trickles to so many people and to an entire community and beyond,” she said. “In this case, 10 lives were lost, and I think about my daughter and that my dad will never be able to hold her, but I know on some level, he will be there and he was so excited — and I’m going to tell her that he loves her so much.”
She was shopping at King Soopers, where a friend’s daughter had seen her. Word made it to her husband, John Mackenzie, who drove to the store and started texting his wife.
After getting no answer in about five minutes, “I just fell over in my chair,” he said, choking up.
Murray had a long career taking photos for magazines including Cosmopolitan and Vogue, Mackenzie said.
“She charmed the pants off me” when they met at a photography studio in New York City years ago, he said. Computer backgammon games soon evolved into a relationship and eventually, two children.
“She’s the kindest person I ever knew, hands down. She had an aura about her that was the coolest freakin’ thing you’d ever want to know. She was just a cool chick,” Mackenzie said.
“She had it all together — she really did,” he said, and offered a message:
“Don’t live in fear. My wife, none of the victims, would ever want you to live in fear. They’d want you to be bolder and live bolder. That’s what this place is."
She had a big laugh and an effervescent personality, the kind of person who cheered everyone up and didn’t sweat what anyone thought of her tattoos or ever-changing hair color, her family and friends said.
“Rikki lived life on her own terms,” uncle Robert Olds said, calling her a “strong, independent young woman” who encouraged the idea of “being your own person.”
As a preschooler, she’d tag along with him and his sons to baseball tournaments and ask to go to McDonald’s afterward. As she grew up, she played softball and developed a love for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities.
“She was just a very kind and loving, bubbly person who lit up the room when she walked in,” said her grandmother, Jeanette Olds.
Rikki Olds originally wanted to be a nurse, but her plans changed, her family said. A front-end manager at King Soopers, Olds aspired to work her way up to store manager.
No matter what she did, she wanted to help people and be nurturing, her uncle said.
“There’s a hole in our family that won’t be filled,” Robert Olds said.
Co-workers said Olds was the go-to person when someone needed to vent, laugh or share a little gossip.
“She was just the funkiest, silliest, most wonderful person," said Giffen, who remembered talking with Olds about a customer complaint Monday.
“I said, like, ‘Hang in there, girl,’" Giffen recalled. “‘It’s groceries. Nobody dies over groceries.'"
Peltz reported from New York and Hollingsworth from Mission, Kansas. Associated Press writers Colleen Sleven in Denver; Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan; Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Thalia Beaty in New York contributed. Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.