BOULDER — Kip Dixon heard a loud noise and perked up.
Sitting at his desk near the floral department in King Soopers supermarket, Dixon, 66, thought maybe a metal shelf had collapsed. After 14 years of working in the store as a nutritionist, Dixon knew the cavernous space could echo and amplify sounds.
Then he heard the screaming.
“All of a sudden people were running by my desk and they were going ‘run, run, shooter, shooter.’ And then ‘bam,’ I hear another loud noise,” Dixon said Tuesday.
Police say Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, walked into the store Monday afternoon and began shooting randomly. Witnesses said he shot at least one person point-blank outside, leaving bodies sprawled in the parking lot amid shattered glass. Alissa faces first-degree murder charges in connection with 10 deaths, including Boulder police Officer Eric Talley, 51, who was shot as he responded to the frantic 911 calls.
Monday’s carnage was the nation’s second mass shooting in a week, coming six days after an attack at three Georgia massage spas that left eight people dead. The Boulder attack was the seventh mass killing this year in the U.S., according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA TODAY and Northeastern University.
Jumping up, Dixon fled with the crowd of workers and shoppers toward the rear of the store, hustling through the bakery and into a storage area with a door leading to the outside.
Customer Ryan Borowski was part of that group. Speaking to CNN, he said he was among the customers racing for the back of the store.
“We had to tell them, ‘Gun, gun, gun! Run, run, run!’ And they made sure we didn’t go down any dead ends,” he told CNN. “We were all running, single file, finding our way through the maze of the back of the house. I had my hand on somebody else’s back, and somebody had their hand on my back, so nobody was tripping or falling.”
Dixon said he paused as he reached the door to the outside, thinking he should go back and help the wounded.
“I turned around and said I should go see what’s going on, try to help and then ‘bang bang bang bang bang,’ really loud. In that big old cavernous store, it just really rang out,” Dixon said. “And then all of a sudden the door opened and everybody, we all just got pushed out. The women were screaming and they were trying to climb up over the snow.”
The arrest affidavit for Alissa paints a picture of confusion as gunshots began ringing out, and some workers inside the store at first thought the shooter was on the roof, said Kim Cordova, the president of Local 7 of the United Food & Commercial Workers. Local 7 represents 32 workers at the store’s meat department, and about 27,000 workers in Colorado and Wyoming.
“It was just terror,” said Cordova, relaying the conversations she had with members inside the store. “They grabbed co-workers and customers and either hid or led them to hiding spaces, got them out the back of the store. They started hearing shots and their first instincts was to grab customers and co-workers and try to get to safety.”
Like many grocery store workers in Colorado, Dixon has worked at the same store for years. He knows the customers. Recognizes faces. But what he saw Monday was terror. Sadness. Anguish.
Three of his co-workers died in the store. Dixon knew that as he and the group rushed around the corner to Caffe Sole, where they barged inside and locked the door. One of his co-workers was crying, Dixon said, his girlfriend dead on the store floor. In addition to Talley, the officer, authorities have identified the dead as Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jody Waters, 65.
“Today our city is grieving the senseless loss of 10 lives in our community,” Mayor Sam Weaver said Tuesday. “A man with a gun monstrously struck them down.”
Police officers eventually collected Dixon’s group from the café, and he began learning the true toll. The store has long been a community focal point, a place where high school kids bag groceries, where neighbors chat in the produce aisle, where students from the University of Colorado-Boulder walk to get coffee from nearby apartment complexes.
Tuesday afternoon, a growing memorial remembered the dead, flowers tucked into the security fence, heart-shaped signs fluttering in the wind. Dixon returned to the store Tuesday afternoon himself, hoping to get his Ford van from the parking lot, which was surrounded by temporary security fencing and yellow police tape. He was still wearing the blue collared shirt and black fleece jacket he had on during the shooting, his nametag acting like a beacon as customers and other survivors gathered around him to remember the dead.
Dixon is still processing the deaths, particularly Stong.
“If I’d had a son, I’d always hope he’d be like Denny,” Dixon said. “When I saw Denny’s name, my heart just dropped. I loved that kid.”
Authorities have not yet released a possible motive for the shooting. A law enforcement official briefed on the shooting told the Associated Press the suspect’s family told investigators they believed Alissa was suffering some type of mental illness, including delusions.
Relatives described times when Alissa told them people were following or chasing him, which they said may have contributed to the violence, the official said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
Dixon said he’d never seen the suspect before. He said he worries what it will be like to go back to work inside a building where so many people died.
“I could have lived the rest of my life without this happening,” Dixon said. “But that’s the way it goes.”
University of Colorado freshman Louis Saxton said he feels lucky to be alive after barely missing the shooting.
Saxton stopped at the King Soopers at about 2:15 p.m. Monday, right after class like he usually does multiple times per week, he said. As he was leaving, he heard the first shot. Someone told him to run, so he ran to his car and drove straight to his aunt’s house in Louisville, about 20 minutes away.
“I didn’t really know what was going on, I just heard shots,” Saxton said. “Of course my reaction was to just run and get as far away as possible.”
On his drive, he estimates he passed about 50 law enforcement vehicles.
“I was just hoping and praying everyone would make it out and be as lucky as I was,” he said, knowing now that they weren’t.
After hearing about the 10 people who did not make it out of the store alive, Saxton – a music performance student – brought his cello to the King Soopers store Tuesday to play to honor those killed and for those coming to mourn the community members killed.
“I just feel incredibly lucky that I was leaving the store when I was, and I feel lucky to be alive and I just wanted to give back as much as I can,” Saxton said. “Music has that unique ability to bring people together in times of extreme grief, like now.”
Contributing: Sady Swanson, The (Fort Collins) Coloradoan.