Twenty-seven years ago, when Aaron Tuneberg was first diagnosed with a developmental disability, doctors were quick to list a slew of basic abilities he'd never master.

He wouldn't read, they said. He wouldn't write. He wouldn't be able to ride a bike.

As his mother stood in Scott Carpenter Park on Thursday evening before Boulder's weekly "cruiser ride" — a gathering of costumed cyclists her son took part in religiously — she thought back to all the ways he'd defied his diagnosis. Nothing stood out more than his mastery on two wheels.

"He was still learning things, still growing, changing," Gale Boonstra said. "But he could ride a bike like nobody. To know that he was able to achieve that kind of independence in life, that means everything to me."

Aaron Matthew Tuneberg Memorial Fund

Send donations to: Noel Culberson, Morgan Stanley, One Boulder Plaza, 1800 Broadway, Suite 120, Boulder, CO 80302.

Only weeks after Tuneberg, 30, was killed in a robbery attempt, Boonstra and more than 150 others gathered to ride in honor and memory of his life.

Tuneberg's alleged killers, Austin Holford and Luke Pelham, both 18, are facing charges including first-degree felony murder, with prosecutors claiming they beat Tuneberg with a bat and a golf club while trying to steal his Xbox on March 31.

Despite the brutal nature of the crime, Chris Vinall, a friend of Tuneberg and one of the event's organizers, said the Thursday night ride was a "celebration" and not a time to mourn.


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"This is the way he'd want to do it, in a 'Happy Thursday' manner," Vinall said.

Friends, family members and fellow cruisers said the group provided Tuneberg a safe environment, free of judgment, where he could throw on a wacky costume, hop on his tricked-out two-wheeler and be a welcomed part of something.

"I would like to think that it was a place he didn't feel different," said Amy Zuckerman, a longtime family friend. "He felt accepted and free, and was one of the group."

Lindsey Wohlman, of Lafayette, right, hugs Bob Sloan, of Boulder, during the Aaron Tuneberg memorial cruiser ride Thursday at Scott Carpenter Park in
Lindsey Wohlman, of Lafayette, right, hugs Bob Sloan, of Boulder, during the Aaron Tuneberg memorial cruiser ride Thursday at Scott Carpenter Park in Boulder. For more photos and video of the memorial ride, go to www.dailycamera.com. (Jeremy Papasso / Daily Camera)

"There was no expectation here," added Tuneberg's sister Rachel. "It was just openness to whatever. I think that's the kind of people Aaron needed, and the kind of person he was."

The Happy Thursday Night Cruisers change themes every week, and Thursday's was "Pimp Your Ride" — a message Vinall knows Tuneberg, a highly stylish man whose stable included an all-chrome bike and a low-rider with hydraulic pumps, would endorse.

"I knew him as just being a quality cruiser," Vinall said. "He got into the themes; he would really dress up."

Friends and family members said that, while Tuneberg relished the costumes and the fancy rides, the camaraderie of the event kept him coming back.

"He was into the spirit of the ride," Vinall said. "He wasn't a fair-weather guy, either. He'd ride in the bad stuff."

Tuneberg was so devoted, his stepfather said, that family events always had to be scheduled around cruises.

"This was a community that really met Aaron where he was," said his sister Sarah, who adorned her bike Thursday with photos of her brother. "It was acceptance and love, and that's what you're seeing tonight. We get to do the thing he loved the most here. We get to channel Aaron and be happy where he was happy."

His joyful spirit was evident in Thursday's riders, but many of them still carry heavy hearts.

"To have somebody that we knew die in such a tragic, violent way," Vinall said. "That's no way to lose someone. It's a horrible loss."

Tuneberg
Tuneberg (Courtesy photo)

"I think we have a lot of healing to do around the violence," Zuckerman added.

Part of the healing process, friends and family said, is remembering the man who exceeded doctors' expectations in nearly every capacity, and did it all with a smile — and an awesome bike.

"For all of our worry about our brother," Sarah said, "he had a life that was beautiful. That's what we want for everyone, disabled or not."

In Tuneberg's memory, his family hopes to raise enough money to establish a group home for developmentally disabled adults.

"I have a really strong desire that everything I do the rest of my life will be honoring him and not relegating him to a victim of a crime, and this fund is part of that," Boonstra said.

Tuneberg's mother hopes the home will foster in its residents the same kind of independence and zeal for life she saw in her son.

"I'm so proud of him," she said, bike horns and joyous music blaring in the background. "Every mother wants their child to be happy, to be loved. I'm thrilled to know that he found this community."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Alex Burness at 303-473-1389 or burnessa@dailycamera.com.