As the sun dipped below the mountains in Boulder on Thursday night, community members reportedly numbering at least 2,000 gathered outside Fairview High School to mourn the loss of 10 people who were gunned down at a local King Soopers grocery store on March 22.
The vigil, one of many that have occurred throughout the week, was organized by the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, an organization that advocates for gun safety and legislative reform. The Boulder mass shooting, which occurred only seven days after a gunman open fired in three Asian-owned day spas in Atlanta, has renewed discussions among local and state lawmakers regarding a ban on assault weapons.
“Let me be clear — we do not want to be here,” Nicole LiaBraaten, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action in Boulder who helped put on the vigil, told the crowd. “But this is what we do. We mourn the lives lost and we grieve, and then we take action.”
“Our hearts are broken,” she said. “And our festering wounds are split open once again and this time it’s for the whole world to see. We have come together and invited you here because this is how we heal.”
Ayesha Rawal, an alumni of Fairview High School, told the crowd that it was only three years ago that she stood on the football field behind them mourning the 17 lives taken during the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
“Three years later, we are gathered here to mourn the loss of 10 beloved lives, friends, family and cherished members of our community,” Rawal said.
“What can you really say to a community who is going through this, to the families of the victims,” she added. “There are no words to describe this kind of pain. I stand before you, bearing witness to our communal pain.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a long-time Boulder County resident, also spoke during the vigil and promised the crowd that he will push for legislative change.
“I know the grief we are carrying here in Boulder is not ours alone, but it’s carried by a nation that has witnessed the horrific pain of gun violence, far too many times” Neguse told the crowd.
“What has pained me the most is that it doesn’t have to be this way,” he said. “We can change the laws, we can work to save lives to protect our communities and ensure that violent tragedies like our community has witnessed this week, never happened again.”
The night included numerous prayers led by local religious leaders, a poetry reading from Khadijah Queen, a creative writing professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, and a cello performance from Charles Lee, with the Boulder Philharmonic.
Tracy Smith, a member of the Islamic Center of Boulder, encouraged those in the crowd to check in on their muslim neighbors during this time.
“I have spoken to some who are afraid to leave the house, others who are changing the path of their daily walks,” Smith said. “Women fearful of wearing their hijab in public and men with beards who feel they will be targeted.”
“The suspect does not represent the Muslim community. He does not represent Islam, he just happens to have a Muslim name,” she added.
Earlier in the day, the suspect arrested for the mass shooting, 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, had his first hearing in court. He is being charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the first decree.
Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty told Judge Thomas Mulvahill that prosecutors are likely to seek additional charges “in the next couple weeks,” following the results of law enforcement’s investigation of the shooting.