“It Sickens Me”: Westminster Officer-involved Shooting Rocks Colorado’s Nepali Community
When Pasang Sherpa thinks about his friend Birendra Thakuri, he remembers his smile.
As the memories flood back, he recalls the times he saw Thakuri at Nepali community events, splashing through Boulder Creek until the cool fall weather returned and riding their bikes through the sun-drenched foothills near Golden after work.
Thakuri, 27, will never be able to do those things again.
In the quiet, upscale Westminster neighborhood of Stratford Lakes, near the intersection of Ranch Reserve Parkway and Federal Boulevard, a police officer responded around 8:45 p.m. Aug. 25 to a report of several men fighting . After the officer arrived, police say Thakuri and his brother advanced on the officer. A physical altercation ensued and the officer fatally shot Thakuri, according to the police.
Thakuri was unarmed, said Gail Johnson, his family’s attorney. He had no criminal arrest record in Colorado, according to a Colorado Bureau of Investigations report.
Westminster police did not comment on the details of the case, citing the ongoing investigation.
The death of Thakuri - who lived in Broomfield, and had been in the U.S. for more than 10 years - has left the Denver metro’s large and close-knit Nepali community reeling. Many question why Thakuri was shot, why he was in that area reportedly fighting with his brother and why no one still knows what happened.
Fatal officer-involved shootings, especially of unarmed people of color, have become a flashpoint across the country. The prevalence of video from body cameras of fatal shootings has prompted outrage and activism to spring up in response.
“The whole Nepali community is really shocked by this,” said Ashutosh Adhikari, co-president of the University of Colorado’s Nepali Student Association.
This is the first officer-involved shooting of a person from Nepal in the United States in memory, according to Binod Tripathi, president of the Rocky Mountain Friends of Nepal.
“(Thakuri’s mother) wants answers about what happened,” Johnson said.
In the wake Thakrui’s death, many of his friends and others in the Nepali community have taken to social media, using the hashtag #justiceforBirendra.
“It sickens me thinking about it,” Sherpa said of his friend’s death.
Early Sunday morning, Sherpa fiddled with the cash register at his convenience store in Longmont as missed calls started filling his voicemail. When he got around to checking his messages, the words waiting for him shattered his routine morning.
He played the message over and over, not believing his friend had been killed.
When he saw Thakuri’s mother later, all she could say through streams of tears was, “Go get Birendra, go get Birendra.” The shock was too much for both of them. Her, murmuring about her lost son, and him standing silently, unsure of what to do but feel the pain of loss.
Sherpa had met Thakuri a decade earlier. On the basketball court of a Nepali-community game, their friendly competition turned to friendship after Thakuri came up to Sherpa to congratulate him on his team’s win.
“Everywhere he went, he would make new friends,” Sherpa said.
They filled days together with bike rides and hikes through their newfound home of Colorado. Through the evenings they chatted about life back in Nepal, their futures in the United States and bridging the gap between their two homes.
Both shared a similar life story: Immigrants searching for opportunity in a new country while trying to stay connected to the culture of their birth. Nepal is a mountainous land with gripping poverty, but rich in culture and dramatic landscapes.
To make sure young kids from Nepal could stay connected to their culture, Thakuri helped organize the Colorado Nepalese Youth Club. The club put on sports games that brought kids together, just as Thakuri and Sherpa found each other.
Colorado and the Denver metro have a relatively large Nepali community. The draw of a familiar mountainous terrain and a growing community have earned Boulder the nickname of the “most western city in Nepal.”
Thakuri helped Sherpa get a job at First National Bank in Broomfield, where he worked as a teller. He filled the drive-through window with Nepali music, often singing and dancing along, said Alex Cohee, one of his former coworkers at the bank.
“His smile and demeanor could make the most grumpy person happy again,” Cohee said while holding back tears.
After a few years of working together, Thakuri and Sherpa both were promoted to different branches. Their friendship shifted from days spent at the bank together to texting and the occasional visit.
When Sherpa started a business of his own, his work consumed him. Thakuri’s calls went unanswered. Hangouts had to be cut short. Their bond stayed strong, but friendship drifted.
On Aug. 23, the two saw each other for just five minutes. Sherpa stopped by Thakrui’s home, but didn’t stay long, and, as he left, he turned to say they needed to catch up again soon.
Thakuri agreed, planning to meet up some later time. “I am good, I am good,” he assured his longtime friend.
Now those words are left echoing in Sherpa’s head, who wishes he had stayed longer, wishes he had picked up the phone more and wishes he could see his friend for one more bike ride.
“I look back and I think about all those missed calls I wish I had picked up.”