Some things you never will forget.
I was thinking of my mother on the morning of March 22. It was her birthday. Cancer took her 18 years ago. She was on my mind as I went about my day’s business.
Finishing an early afternoon meeting, an active shooter text alert flashed across my phone. I desperately hoped the message was sent in error. A call to Deputy Chief Carey Weinheimer confirmed the message. The active shooter was still in the store. My grocery store, just three blocks from my home.
The rapid co-response of local, county, state and federal agencies was overwhelming. At first glance, the scene appeared chaotic. As tactical teams formed and prepared for deployment, it stuck me that this expertise stemmed from years of active shooter training and preparation.
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I was informed that an officer was down inside the store. Within minutes, I was told that he had been killed.
Teams of tactical officers deployed into the store. The suspect was apprehended and removed from the scene. Police officers — despite their grief — maintained our perimeter and the crime scene’s integrity. They extracted and comforted survivors who were hiding in the store.
Police officers grieve, too
When I learned the name of our fallen officer, I realized that this was the same officer who, just a few weeks prior, had brought his family to my office. We celebrated his son, who was given a life-saving award. I never thought the next time I would see them would be to tell them their father had died in the line of duty.
Officer Eric Talley died a hero. I want his children to know that their father saved dozens of innocent lives.
After leaving Eric’s family, Chief Doreen Jokerst of University of Colorado Boulder Police Department and I met with other families gathered at a reunification center, waiting for their loved ones to walk through the door. Instead, they learned that we could not yet confirm the victims’ identifies. Their grief was devastating. I felt powerless to help them.
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Police officers rarely get a moment to step away, process their thoughts and feelings, and grieve. We must continue to serve and prevent community harm, even though our hearts are shattered. I am proud of the response of my officers, partner agencies, and my community. We will heal, but the scars will remain.
In the end, Eric’s family may never remember the words I said to them Monday night, but I hope that they, and the friends and families of all victims, feel the support of all of us who mourn alongside them. Eric made the ultimate sacrifice. He, and our other friends and neighbors may be gone, but they will not be forgotten.
My final thought is that, moving forward, we must work together to find solutions to the gun violence traumatizing our communities. This is what Eric, his family, and all families impacted by these devastating events deserve.
Maris Herold is chief of the Boulder, Colo., Police Department.