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'Saddened but not surprised': Boulder residents say shooting is a reminder of a new reality

"I don’t see us moving out," one councilwoman said. "I see us putting arms around each other. Those aren’t actions of people who want to give up."
Star Samkus, who works at the King Soopers grocery store and knew three of the victims of the mass shooting there, cries while kneeling in front of crosses placed in honor of the victims on March 23, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.
Star Samkus, who works at the King Soopers grocery store and knew three of the victims of the mass shooting there, cries while kneeling in front of crosses placed in honor of the victims on Tuesday in Boulder, Colo.David Zalubowski / AP

Boulder, Colorado, has the best of what life has to offer. Beautiful snow-capped mountains. Expansive views of the scenic Front Range. People take deep breaths to inhale fresh air, gawk at the wildlife and rock climb.

Many residents there prefer the vibrant, small-town atmosphere to the big-city life of Denver, a 30-mile drive southeast where plenty go for weekend excitement.

Boulder is mentioned often as one of the greatest places to raise a family.

U.S. News and World Report in 2020 named Boulder the top city in America to live. In fact, Denver, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins all ranked in the top five, based on value, desirability, job market and quality of life, including safety.

Monday’s mass shooting at a King Soopers grocery store, where 10 people were killed, does little to square with the image of a city touted as the best of the best.

Some residents, however, expressed little surprise at the attack given the state’s and country’s history of mass shootings. They also remained optimistic about Boulder’s future.

Boulder resident Katie Mason, 40, shops at the King Soopers where the bullets rang out.

“I could have easily been there,” said Mason, a licensed therapist who lives a mile from the grocery store. “I feel very saddened but not surprised.”

She doesn’t expect dramatic changes in the quality of life nor many residents to move away.

Even though she’s fearful of the unknown, Mason said mass shootings can happen anywhere at any moment, so leaving won’t solve the problem.

“I worry about this stuff. I don’t know if it’s because I live in Colorado and I’m used to it here. The reality is we have these kinds of things happen a lot,” Mason said.

Colorado has had many high-profile shootings.

The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 left 15 people dead, including the shooters, and another 24 injured, while the Aurora Century movie theatre shooting in 2012 resulted in 12 dead and 70 injured.

“Where are you going to move to? There’s nowhere to go to get away from it,” Mason said.

Boulder resident Wendy Kinal, 44, said the shooting has left her numb but acknowledged much won’t change in Boulder because mass shootings are everywhere.

“It feels like there’s a cloud hanging over. I’m thankful that I’m safe,” Kinal said Tuesday, after authorities revealed the list of victims. “It’s shocking how close to home it is, yet not shocking because of so many things going on in this country.”

Also Tuesday, some businesses such as Boxcar Coffee Roasters were open and taking orders as locals were processing the tragedy.

Linnea True, 36, an employee of the coffee shop, said she expects business to carry on as usual.

She said she doesn’t expect anyone to relocate nor a decline in quality of life, describing Boulder as a great town with hiking, residents able to play at the base of the mountains and drawing tourists.

“My personal hope is that something positive comes from this, like mental health outreach. Boulder comes together like a community,” True said.

On the other hand, the lifelong Colorado resident said she’s lived within 20 miles of Colorado’s three largest mass shootings.

“It’s just another reminder that we’re not safe,” True said. “We’ve set the precedent. It keeps happening here because it keeps happening here.”

John Tayer, president of the Boulder Chamber, called the shooting an isolated incident that doesn't relate overall to the safety and quality of life in Boulder and said it shouldn’t have a major effect on businesses.

“It is an episode in our history that is tragic, and we will grieve and recover from it and also try to understand the circumstances that caused this incident,” he said.

Boulder City Councilwoman Junie Joseph also believes Boulder is still a wonderful place to live.

“We Americans are resilient. I don’t see us moving out; I see us putting arms around each other. Those aren’t actions of people who want to give up,” the councilwoman said. “Mental illness has no class, violence has no class and it has no color.”

On Tuesday, she called on federal lawmakers to require strong background checks on gun buyers.

“We want to pay attention to the much larger issue of where the violence is coming from and why it’s occurring,” the councilwoman said.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday did call for tightening gun control laws in the wake of the grocery store shooting.

Despite Biden’s pleas, two House-approved bills to close gaps in the background checks system don't currently have the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate, NBC News reported.

“There’s a bigger discussion that we have to have as a community. We need Congress to do its part and the rest of the United States, as well,” Joseph urged.

Meanwhile, Boulder continues to draw acclaim for its outdoor attractions and way of life.

"Snug against the foothills where the Great Plains give rise to the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is nothing if not a looker,” U.S. News and World Report wrote in honoring the city. “Trail runners, hikers, climbers, cyclists and more move here to live in this perpetual playground.”

Boulder "attracts young professionals, families, academics, scientists and transplants from both coasts," it added.

That may all be true. However, even before the shootings not everyone viewed it that way.

"I’ve seen those reports and I’ve always asked, 'For who is it the safest and for who is it the happiest?'" asked Kinal, who moved to Boulder from Boston three years ago. "There’s different Boulders. I’m always a little on guard."

"I still think there’s a lot of inequity and lack of diversity," she added. "On one hand, I think this is an amazing place, but it doesn’t get to the whole story."

Boulder’s population is 88 percent white, 6 percent Asian and 1 percent Black. Some may agree with her, in part.

“I live in Boulder. Anyone who thought that our city was immune from violence, racism, greed or any other malady of modern life hasn't been paying attention,” Janet Meyer wrote in a Twitter post following the shooting.

Speaking of the shooting, councilwoman Joseph said: “We are shocked. We are tired. We had a pandemic. We’ve been cooped up in the house for more than a year, and now we’re trying to get out and here’s what happened.”

"We’re going to move forward because we have after every mass shooting," The councilwoman concluded. "But we’ve never really moved forward effectively and bring the changes that people need. I think that’s where we are."