After a year of isolation, taking precautions, and assessing risk when shopping at the local grocery store, it has become a place where getting a COVID-19 vaccination is associated with freedom and the restoration of a somewhat normal life. Until yesterday.
We’ve been here before — Jon Benet Ramsey’s murder incited fear of a child killer on the loose in Boulder. At that time, I called a police officer friend and asked if Boulder was still safe for my kids. “Yes,” she said. Years later, Columbine became the first of many school shootings. After the Batman movie mass murder in Aurora, I was frantic to contact my son, who had been in the area with friends that night. I can’t express the relief I felt when hearing his voice rough from sleep.
After the King Soopers massacre, some people will react in fear, stay home, check for exits whenever they’re inside a building. Don’t do that. Assessing risk is natural. Preparing for mass murder is not.
When the Facebook notification popped up to mark myself safe, I was surprised. I live in Niwot, north of Boulder. Maybe Facebook knows that I drive by the King Soopers in Table Mesa twice a week. Broadway becomes Highway 93, a thoroughfare to Golden, Colorado, and I-70 to the mountains. Almost anyone from Boulder County could have been in that grocery store on Monday afternoon.
I moved to Boulder thirty years ago for many reasons — the beauty of the Flatirons, its outdoorsy and Zen people, parks, and places to recreate. A college town similar to Madison, Wisconsin, where I grew up. Family and community-oriented, I felt safe raising a family here.
A lot has changed worldwide. Our lives have become fast-paced — time a rare commodity. People aren’t entertaining like they once did. We don’t always know our neighbors.
The world stopped with the spread of COVID-19. Whatever social life we enjoyed slowed or ended. I don’t need to reiterate all of the other turmoil we’ve endured in the US, but we thought the worst was behind us. I did.
Now, this. Just as we round the corner from the year from hell, another form of hell arises.
So, what do we do?
First, we grieve with the families of those who were murdered. We grieve for Boulder. We grieve for a world where a man can walk into a grocery store parking lot with a high-powered rifle and obliterate lives in a matter of minutes. We grieve for the survivors who won’t be able to forget the sounds, the cries, the bodies, the scene that will play out in their minds for years to come. We grieve for the friends and family of the killer. They will wonder how they missed it — the signs, the hatred, the mental illness.
And then, once we’ve been vaccinated, we reach out. We find ways to make a difference in our neighborhoods and communities. We practice patience. Kindness. Inclusivity. Empathy. Compassion. Can we do that? Of course, we can.
When a tragedy like this happens, moving forward needs to include more than looking out for ourselves. Wanting to be better people isn’t enough. Wanting Boulder to be safer isn’t enough. This soul-crushing event becomes meaningful when we come together as a community — tears from our collective sorrow to fertilize the ground where hope and new ideas grow. We can make Boulder even better than before.
This was published in The Boulder Daily Camera.
Have you ever had to mark yourself safe on Facebook? Have you been to Boulder? Would you hesitate now?