It could have been you, it could have been me. Maybe not this time, but possibly next time. It could have been you at your local supermarket in the middle of the day grabbing a quart of milk or getting your vaccine. It could have been your daughter or son or husband or wife or sister or brother who was shot on a Monday in March. You probably don’t want to think like that and neither do I. Yet, you can’t deny that possibility.

I struggle to reconcile how to honor the dead and all I can come up with is to live a bit louder. They were here and now they are not and there is an empty place at the table.

Sitting around the fire pit last night at 8 for ten minutes of silence,I began to panic because I could not remember all ten names: Denny Stong, Neven Stanisic, Rikki Olds, Tralona Bartkowiak, Suzanne Fountain, Teri Leiker, Officer Eric Talley, Kevin Mahoney, Lynn Murray, Jody Waters.

Some Boulder-ites say they feel their innocence was shattered.

I think my innocence left years ago.

Random violence first reared its head to me in April of 2013 with the Boston Marathon bombing. Any shred of innocence I might have had left took a nosedive in 2019 when I was evacuated from my place of work due to an active shooter at the business next door.

I know that violence is possible and hits on an ordinary day when no one is considering the possibility.

I was calm when instructed to usher customers to huddle behind a cement post before I tried to squeeze in with them. That post would not have saved us. 

A SWAT team ran through the building and the store owner fed us information when he could. I think we all thought the same thing, is this real?

It was.

We were evacuated to the restaurant next door, and all walked there calmly, more calmly than you might imagine. The officers on the scene were all business and provided confidence that we were safe. I sat in a booth watching the insanity unfold outside. I still owe the restaurant money for the french fries I ordered that day. I sat with strangers, and we tried to make sense of it all. We kept coming back to the easy availability of guns.

I was nervous, but not afraid. The fear and anxiety came later. Mostly I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Worried I would see someone shot and unable to turn away. We were free to go after the shooter was disarmed peacefully.

I shook and sobbed once I got in my car and I took the long way home.

I knew it could have had an entirely different ending.

The news of the recent shooting at South Boulder’s King Soopers came to us while we were on the way to San Jose airport. It was a news alert, just saying ‘active shooter in Boulder grocery store.’ My hope was that this event would end the way my active shooter experience did.

But when our plane landed in Denver, we learned that there were ten dead. Ten. I lost my breath. And immediately thought why? My body went numb and I felt nothing. It took a day for my rage to turn to grief.

According to the small arms survey in 2017, the United States is the country with the highest rate of households with guns by far. We also have the highest incidence of gun violence. So, no. More guns do not make our country safer.

Worse, our culture tends to worship firearms, citing an amendment that was written in 1791. I’ve heard all the arguments, and you have too. I don’t care any more. When the right to bear arms morphs into the perceived right to own high capacity weapons of war and supersedes my right to safely go to the grocery store, worship or send children to school, we have to acknowledge that something is desperately wrong and work together to solve the problem. We have to.

Unfortunately our country is too busy fighting one another.

I honestly am baffled by any law abiding and mentally sane gun owner clutching their rifles and pistols in fear over any regulation that would help to keep all of us safe. Including, by the way, the children and other individuals who live in those homes. Death by gun violence is terrifying. Sixty percent of gun deaths are suicide. 

My daughter is a kindergarten teacher who huddles with her students during active shooter drills, reminding her children to remain quiet as they hide so that they can’t be found. The trauma of these drills can have long lasting effects on sensitive five year olds, even when the drill is over and they are safe. Trauma impacts psychological health. Our bodies do not relinquish the fear we feel in those moments so quickly. I know this to be a fact.

After the active shooter incident at Neptune, the store owners offered confidential meetings with a trauma specialist. I took them up on it and to this day remain grateful for the opportunity. For me, those moments in the store were compounded by previous trauma. 

The trauma from the Boston Marathon in 2013 when my feelings of excitement waiting to spot my beautiful daughter cross the finish line, turned into terror.

That April day was a beautiful and crisp spring day, a good day to run 26.2 miles. This was Hannah’s first Marathon and she was running to raise money for a nonprofit. We had watched her at the ten mile mark and she was looking strong and happy. After that, we jumped on a train to see her at the finish. Her Dad was at Heartbreak hill and texted us when she passed him, so we had a rough idea of where she was. 

When we arrived, we first thought to watch right next to the finish line on Exeter Street, but then her now husband, Shane, suggested we instead watch her from a different location, the intersection of Commonwealth and Mass Ave because he thought she would have more of a chance of seeing us from there. Moments after we arrived, there was a loud boom, a bit like the sound of a large dumpster being dropped in place. Her boyfriend’s mother, Kathy, and I locked eyes, wondering ‘what was that?’

Shortly after the first loud BOOM, there was another. This time, my bones froze and I felt like I was free falling in an elevator shaft, but Kathy and I looked at the police officers all around us and they were calm, so we figured, it must be fireworks or something like that. Until.

Within seconds, I saw something that still reduces me to tears. The police officers began to run towards the finish line. Towards the noise. Towards danger.

Those that remained behind stopped the runners who were confused and only wanted to finish the race. Some even tried to run around the blockade. They could not comprehend what was going on.

We screamed, SOMETHING BAD HAS HAPPENED, STOP, and then I began to shake, panic and frantically search for my daughter. Shane helped me stand on a pillar, my legs shaking and unsteady, but I couldn’t see her. Yelling her name was futile.  So we began to run against the runners.

We didn’t know what had happened or what would happen next, and Hannah did not have a cell phone on her. All we knew was that something horrible had happened, something that wasn’t planned and we needed to find Hannah and get out of the city.

The moments it took to find my daughter felt like days, months. I have never been so terrified. I never want to feel that way again.

It Could Have Been You

We found Hannah, still running, unaware, and we hugged. My phone blew up with text messages and calls before it went silent due to the cell towers being silenced.We were giddy that we were safe.

Until we began to learn of the toll this violence had taken. When we learned that had we remained on Exeter Street, we might have been victims as well. Shane’s last minute suggestion could have very well have saved our lives.

I knew that day that it could have been me. It could have been my daughter. It could have been Kathy or Shane. It could have been anyone.

So I ask, who does it need to be before we agree to work together to take action?

We turn away at our own peril.

To learn more about how you can help Boulder victims and their families, click here.

To learn more about gun safety in our communities or get involved, click here.