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‘There is not a quick fix’: Rikki Olds’ family reflects on life after Boulder’s King Soopers shooting

A portrait of Rikki Olds, one of ten people killed in the mass shooting at the Table Mesa King Soopers in Boulder on March 22, 2021, is surrounded by family: Robert Olds, from left, her uncle; Keith Whitehead, her brother; and Jeanette Olds, her grandmother. Robert Olds reflected in an interview on what the year since losing his niece to the violence has been like. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
A portrait of Rikki Olds, one of ten people killed in the mass shooting at the Table Mesa King Soopers in Boulder on March 22, 2021, is surrounded by family: Robert Olds, from left, her uncle; Keith Whitehead, her brother; and Jeanette Olds, her grandmother. Robert Olds reflected in an interview on what the year since losing his niece to the violence has been like. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

On the 22nd day of each month, Robert Olds makes a Facebook post. Each will usually include a photo of his niece, Rikki Olds, or a memory in her honor.

It’s become a tradition, part of his continued effort to keep his niece’s memory alive. Rikki, 25, was one of 10 people killed about a year ago at the Table Mesa Drive King Soopers where she worked.

In the immediacy, a mass shooting weighs heavy on a community’s mind. But that attention often fades.

“All too often, this is reality: Everybody is thinking about it in the moment. A month, two months, three months … their life still goes on,” Robert Olds said. “When you’re a victim, you’re kind of stuck in that moment.”

In addition to Rikki, Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley, 51; Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Teri Leiker, 51; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 61; and Jody Waters, 65, were killed in the shooting, which happened just before 3 p.m. on March 22, 2021.

The ten people killed March 22, 2021, at the Table Mesa King Soopers were Officer Eric Talley, top row from left, 51; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Denny Stong, 20; Rikki Olds, 25; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Jody Waters, bottom row from left, 65; Lynn Murray, 62; Neven Stanisic, 23; Teri Leiker, 51; and Suzanne Fountain, 59. (Pictures courtesy of friends and family)

The south Boulder King Soopers remained closed until this February, when the store reopened with a new design in response to community and employee feedback. King Soopers is planning a memorial tree garden in remembrance of those lost in the shooting.

Rikki grew up in Lafayette and graduated from Centaurus High School in 2013. She began working at King Soopers in 2016, starting as a deli clerk before working her way up to deli manager.

At the time of her death, Rikki was a front-end manager, generally responsible for overseeing all employees within a particular section such as cashiers and customer service representatives, and was training to become a store manager.

When reflecting on what he’s lost, Robert finds it hardest to remember Rikki will no longer be there for life’s everyday moments.

“For me, personally, it’s missing the randomness of popping into the house,” he said. “Me teasing about her hair color of the month or whatever new tattoo she had gotten.”

And perhaps even more than his own stories, he’s taken comfort in the countless stories he’s heard from friends and coworkers in the months since Rikki died: quips about customer interactions and times she’d go out of her way to make people laugh.

“I think that just speaks to her character,” Robert said. “Also I think it was kind of her way of healing from the trauma that she faced in her life.”

Rikki’s mom left when she was young and she and her brother ended up living with their grandparents, he noted.

A fight for justice

Losing the chance to celebrate birthdays and holidays with Rikki or to randomly drop in and spend time with her has generally been the most difficult part of the loss.

But the most unexpected difficulty? The red tape and the more bureaucratic steps that must be taken when losing a loved one, particularly in such a violent and public way.

“Nobody logically thinks that they’re going to have to take care of the affairs of their 25-year-old relative,” Robert said. “That is really difficult.”

In the shooting’s aftermath, the Olds family has been one of the few to regularly agree to be interviewed and to speak during news conferences when there are updates in the court proceedings. The other nine families declined an interview for this story.

“If I can keep my niece’s memory going, so people don’t forget the story and don’t forget her … she was a part of this,” he said.

“It’s my way to fight for justice for her and for everybody else,” Robert later added.

From left: Boulder Mayor Aaron Brockett ...
Boulder Mayor Aaron Brockett, from left, and King Soopers Manager Sheri Bosman tie two ribbons together during a ceremony to reopen the King Soopers on Table Mesa Drive in Boulder on Feb. 9. Officials substituted the ribbon tying for the traditional ribbon cutting, hoping the gesture would communicate the unity and hope the ceremony was meant to highlight. The store reopened about 11 months after ten people were killed there in a mass shooting, one year ago Tuesday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Overall, Robert hopes that what happened at that store will inspire company-wide training and security changes.

When King Soopers reopened the store earlier this year, it declined to share any specific changes or upgrades made regarding the security of that particular store or any within the chain, citing security concerns about revealing safety measures in place.

Still, while his various efforts for justice have helped him cope, Robert acknowledges that his feelings about losing Rikki continue to evolve.

Survival, anger, therapy

For the first few months after her death, Robert remained in survival mode.

Then he became angry. He said the rage ultimately cost him relationships with people he cared about.

Mental health resources

BoulderStrong Resource Center: 2935 Baseline Road or 303-545-0844Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 3825Crisis Text Line: Text 741741 from anywhere in the nation to reach a counselorNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

“That’s something that I don’t think is talked about a lot — you as a person and as a victim of this, you change,” Robert said. “Right, wrong or indifferent, there are relationships that get affected.”

This experience is common among those who experience trauma, according to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

“No matter what traumatic event or circumstance a person endures, whether it is the sudden death of a loved one, an aviation disaster, a hate crime, community violence, childhood abuse, sexual assault, war, or refugee circumstances, it is natural for the experience to affect relationships with others,” the society noted in a report.

After a lot of convincing and encouragement from his support system, Robert began therapy. He said it’s been a necessary step as he processes his grief.

But everyone deals with trauma differently and on their own timeline, according to Karen Schweihs, manager of the Boulder Strong Resource Center, a resource hub managed by Mental Health Partners of Boulder and sponsored by King Soopers.

“We know trauma comes at unpredictable times for people,” she said.

The Boulder Strong Resource Center opened in the days after the shooting and moved to a permanent location on Baseline Road in June. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, secured $275,000 in federal funding for the center, which continues to serve an average of 200 visitors each month.

The Boulder Strong Resource Center (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The center, which is open to those impacted by the shooting in any way, offers several services, including comfort dogs, counseling, massage, and art therapy.

As Boulder marks a year since the shooting, the families of those lost, other people inside the store and the community at large continue to grapple with the aftermath.

Ensuring people stay connected and have ongoing support available to them in the aftermath of mass violence is critical, according to a report from the American Psychological Association.

For this reason, Schweihs expects the Boulder Strong Resource Center to remain open indefinitely.

“We know that after a tragedy the impact is long term,” she said. “Those 10 people will never be forgotten and the community needs to heal. That takes a long time. There is not a quick fix.”