Colorado paused Tuesday to honor a police officer killed after he ran into a Boulder grocery store to save shoppers and employees from a gunman who barged into the store and began firing.
Officer Eric Talley, a 10-year veteran of the Boulder Police Department, was remembered during a public memorial service as an optimistic, competitive man who loved family dinners, board games and practical jokes. Hundreds of law enforcement officers and relatives filled Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, while many others across the state and beyond watched on livestream.
Talley, a devout Catholic with seven children ages 7 to 20, was the last of 10 people killed March 22 when a gunman entered a King Soopers and began shooting.
“From the time Eric entered the store and confronted the suspect, no other civilian was hurt,” said Adrian Drelles, a Boulder police sergeant and Talley’s supervisor. “Eric died a hero, giving his all to save others. He did not die in vain.
“Officer Eric Talley answered a call for help in which he knew people were dying. He saved lives. Many people were pulled out of the building alive after it was all over.”
Drelles said he could imagine Talley shouting him off the stage if he stood up and told everyone at the memorial service that Talley was perfect. “He was a pain in my butt,” Drelles said. “Eric had two speeds at work — talkaholic and honey badger. Eric was either talking everyone’s ear off or hard-charging.”
See all of The Sun’s coverage of the Boulder King Soopers shooting.
Talley called his sergeant so many times each shift that Drelles had recently told him he was restricting his phone calls, he said. “He was allowed to call me 10 times per shift, or once per hour,” Drelles said.
But Talley, who had an “unbelievable sense of humor” and was always up for a good practical joke, called Drelles almost immediately after leaving his office. “Five minutes later, my phone rings,” Drelles said. “It’s Eric, letting me know he’s going pee.”
The duty of notifying Talley’s wife that he had been killed fell to Drelles, who recalled that he was shaking as he went to the family’s home on the “longest, most emotional car ride” of his life, trying to come up with words that would comfort the family.
“Eric’s kids jumped into action, started making phone calls and instead, gave me the comfort,” Drelles said. “In the darkest hour of their life, they made sure we were OK.”
Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold, seeming to speak directly to Talley’s children, said her father died when she was 13.
“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him,” Herold said. “The thing I remember most about my father: he was kind. Your father was kind. He died a hero.”
Talley’s actions saved “dozens of lives,” the police chief said. “I hope this brings solace to you all in the years ahead,” she said. “Eric was kind. Eric was brave, and in the end, willing to die to save others.”
Talley had an optimistic and competitive personality, she said. He had a black belt in karate and was obsessed with board games. His family has a collection of 450 board and card games, and Talley sometimes brought obscure games from around the world to the police station.
“He was happiest, though, when he won,” Herold said, eliciting quiet laughs in the somber room.
Talley was known, too, for his love of Mountain Dew and Star Wars. He left a career in information technology to join the police force in 2010 at the age of 41. His fellow police officers turned to him for technical questions, including help turning on home wifi systems, Herold said. Talley joined the department’s newly created drone program in 2017.
In 2013, Talley captured local media attention after he “pressed his way through a drainage grate to rescue a mother duck and her 11 ducklings,” the police chief said. “By all accounts, the mother duck was grateful,” she said.
More than 500 police vehicles, lights flashing, processed from Thornton to the memorial service in Lafayette, passing people with signs and flags who lined the streets on a chilly spring morning. A day earlier, law enforcement officers stood on overpasses through Colorado Springs, Highlands Ranch and further north as the Colorado State Patrol escorted Talley’s mom to Colorado from New Mexico for her son’s funeral.
Upon arriving at the church, seven officers in white gloves saluted Talley’s casket, draped with an American flag, then carried it to the front of the church, where they saluted again.
The front of the church was crowded with flowers, many of them blue, as well as photographs and other mementos. A bucket of golf balls. A well-worn children’s book. Talley’s uniform on a hanger. His drone. A photo of Talley in sunglasses. Another photo of him with a group of police officers at the base of the mountains.
Officers from each of the various law enforcement agencies represented at the service walked to the front of the church, placing a single blue rose in a vase.
Pastor Jim Burgen, senior pastor at Flatirons, said the day was about Talley, but he began the service by listing the names of the other victims of the mass shooting, “the nine people that Officer Talley ran toward in order to protect.”
Also killed that day were 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.
“The thin blue line can best be compared to a sunrise,” Burgen said. “It’s that thin blue line of light that separates the night from the day, the dark from the light. It is on that line that Officer Talley laid down his life for us.”
The Rev. Daniel Nolan, assistant pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Littleton, said Talley’s life was not taken. “He gave it,” Nolan said.
Talley would not have wanted such a public service, which is why his family held a private requiem Mass on Monday in Denver, Nolan said. The public service Tuesday was for the hundreds of law officers in uniform and polished shoes, Nolan said.
“This service would have been for any one of you had you been the first on the scene,” he said. “This is for you.”
Gov. Jared Polis also spoke during the service. U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper also attended.
Inside the funeral program were the words of Talley’s children: a poem they wrote for Christmas 2019. “Dad, our unsung hero,” it said. “You never count the cost. Whatever we need is never too much.
“May the angels watch over you and guard you on your way. May God bless and protect you and bring you home each day.”
At the close of the service, a dispatcher called out his badge number: 295.
“End of watch,” she said. “You are released from end of watch. We have the watch from here.”