Colorado store where 10 died reopens to mixed emotions
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Hours before a gunman opened fire at a bustling Colorado supermarket, Teri Leiker called her mother to tell her how excited she was to return from vacation to her job as a front-end bagger where she loved her customers and her colleagues.
She never came back home.
About 30 minutes before she was set to finish her shift on March 22, 2021, Leiker was shot and killed along with nine other people inside and outside the store. Nearly a year later, the redesigned King Soopers in the college town of Boulder reopened Wednesday, a move that triggered mixed emotions for families of the victims as well as the community.
For Leiker’s mother, Margie Whittington, the reopening of the store, which bears the name of the neighborhood emblazoned on the front, is a way of showing that evil does not triumph.
“When they see ‘Table Mesa’ they’ll know that this store did not get torn down and the shooter didn’t prevail,” said Whittingham, who said her daughter’s former co-workers and customers have reached out to comfort her. Leiker, who lived independently despite having cognitive disabilities, worked at the store for 32 years.
But the uncle of Rikki Olds, a front-end manager who was also killed at the store, thinks it may have been better to tear the store down, getting rid of the place where so much tragedy happened.
“What happened is still there,” Robert Olds said of the shooting.
Robert Olds hopes the newly designed store has better security than at the time of the shooting, including some of the measures he is responsible for as a school security supervisor. He would also like to see supermarkets install panic buttons that alert police to a shooting and automatically lock store doors, like schools have, and to also monitor their security cameras for signs of trouble, including outside the store. Authorities say the gunman opened fire in the parking lot before going inside.
He wasn’t impressed after touring the new store this week, saying “it was the same place it was.”
The court case against the alleged gunman, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 22, has been on hold since December, when a judge ruled that Alissa was mentally incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to be treated at the state mental hospital to see if he can be made well enough to go to trial.
A spokesperson for King Soopers, Jessica Trowbridge, said a survey conducted by the company found that the store’s workers and customers overwhelmingly wanted the store to reopen and the company heeded changes they asked for, including a lighter, brighter appearance, created with a raised ceiling and a nearly all glass entry way with views of the nearby Flatirons, the city’s iconic rock formations.
“This is their community and they wanted to return to their community and their store,” said Trowbridge, who said that about 50% of the employees who worked at the store at the time of the shooting are returning to their jobs.
She declined to discuss whether there had been changes to security made in the store, which opened its doors following a ceremony that blended celebration with remembrance.
Workers and first responders were led into the event in the store’s parking lot by the University of Colorado’s marching band, which Gov. Jared Polis noted must have made Leiker, a longtime fan, smile.
The names of the victims were read twice during the ceremony. Several speakers focused on the importance of reopening a store where neighbors inevitably run into each other and catch up. Some also encouraged people who are struggling to reach out for help at a resource center established after the shooting.
“It is OK not to be OK,” King Soopers president Joe Kelley said.
When it was over, store employees walked down a red carpet flanked by cheerleaders from the Denver Broncos and Nuggets and others, some stopping to hug people along the way or give high five’s, and headed into the store to start working.
Sarah Annecone stood back in the sun watching, relieved to see a familiar employee looking happy to be going back inside. She had felt sick to her stomach in the morning, thinking about what had happened a block from her home last year, a day after she had shopped at the store as she had done for 30 years. She was not sure if she wanted to go to the ceremony but decided to pass by as she took her dog for a walk and then felt drawn toward it as she saw others going in.
“I think it’s really cathartic to be a part of these things,” said Annecone, who plans to return to shopping at the store once again.