An employee who survived the mass shooting at the King Soopers in South Boulder described a harrowing siege that lasted an hour or longer, ending only when the attacker surrendered to heavily armed police officers after allegedly killing 10 people.
Maggie Montoya, 25, has worked at the King Soopers for nearly three years as a pharmacy technician and lives just a mile from the strip mall on Table Mesa Drive. She arrived at work at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, preparing for another hectic day of distributing COVID-19 vaccines.
“It was a decent day. It wasn't too crazy,” said Montoya, who works at the store to support her career as a professional runner.
Around 2:30 p.m., she heard the first gunshots. The pharmacy is at the front of the store, not far from the main entrance where the attack began.
“I just heard our store manager yell, ‘Active shooter,’ and we all scattered,” Montoya said in an interview on Tuesday morning.
She and a coworker fled into a small room where pharmacists had been administering the vaccine, hoping its metal door would protect them. Several others hid in a different part of the pharmacy.
Elsewhere in the store, people fled through the loading docks at the back of the store or ran or upstairs to an employee area. Workers at the in-store Starbucks coffee shop hid behind cardboard signs behind the counter, she later learned.
Montoya heard the shots in rapid bursts with pauses in between — several rounds at a time, never a single shot. Police received a call describing a man in his 30s with a rifle.
“I was just imagining the person hopping the counter and just coming in the room,” she said.
As soon as the door was secure, Montoya called 911 and then her parents.
“I told them what was happening, told them I loved them and that I needed to go but I’d text them,” Montoya said.
She also texted her boyfriend, Jordan Carpenter, 27.
“There an [sic] active shooter in the store. I love you. Don’t call,” the 2:39 p.m. message read. Meanwhile, the phones at the pharmacy rang incessantly as unknown callers dialed the store.
The initial period of heavier shooting lasted perhaps 10 minutes, Montoya said.
“It was an initial rush. And then the store just got really quiet,” she said.
She could still hear the store’s music playing over the PA system, punctuated by intermittent gunshots that seemed to come from different parts of the roughly 60,000 square-foot building. Montoya hid beneath a desk while the pharmacist took cover as best she could. Montoya texted her coworker’s husband since the pharmacist didn’t have her phone.
“I honestly thought everybody was dead. I didn’t hear anybody running,” she said.
Meanwhile, Montoya’s running coach texted her updates from his location outside the store. He was watching a widely circulated YouTube livestream along with some 30,000 other people. The video showed swarms of heavily armed officers positioning themselves in squads around the building, using an armored vehicle for cover as they crossed in front of the broken windows at the front of the store.
“He told me that the building was surrounded, but no one was coming in, and all I'm thinking is, ‘Why aren't they coming in?’” Montoya said.
Finally, a voice boomed through the store on a loudspeaker.
“This is the Boulder Police Department. The entire building is surrounded. I need you to surrender now,” an officer can be heard saying in a video from the scene around 3 p.m.
The response came from just in front of the pharmacy, shocking Montoya.
“He said, ‘I surrender, I’m naked,’” she recalled.
There was no immediate response. Five minutes later, an officer again used a loudspeaker to demand the attacker surrender.
“I know you can hear me,” an officer can be heard saying on the video. It was another 20 minutes before Montoya heard a squad enter the building. During that time, she heard footsteps on the roof as another armored unit got into position.
Meanwhile, the gunshots had stopped, Montoya recalled, but the “phones kept ringing, and we knew he was out there.” Eventually, she heard more noise upfront and footsteps running across the roof. She thinks a squad came through the ceiling.
The shooter “was still by the pharmacy when they told him to surrender,” Montoya said. “And he again said, ‘I surrender, I’m naked.’”
She heard him walking away from the pharmacy as officers gave him instructions, ordering him to keep his hands above his head.
The livestream video shows police escorting a shirtless man from the building at around 3:30 p.m. The employees waited as officers swept the building. Outside, the police presence had swelled into the hundreds, with drones and helicopters circling above.
Montoya heard officers outside the pharmacy. They said they had found a gun and ammunition. “They found it in the aisle there by the pharmacy,” she said. As she waited, she hoped that there were no more gunmen. Finally, she heard someone clatter through the plastic barricades and vaccine station.
The officers found the workers in the other part of the pharmacy first. Then the knock on the door of the small room came, and Montoya and the pharmacist knocked back. They raised their hands above their heads and waited.
“That's when it all hit me, that I was going to be OK. That was probably the most emotional moment I had — that and leaving the store. It’s just that we were really getting out alive,” she said. The overwhelming thought was that “the right people came through the door.”
Suddenly, it was “so loud, just, after so much quiet,” she said. She saw her coworkers’ faces, but the relief was tempered by knowing that they would have to walk out through the store. The SWAT team told them not to look around or look at the blood, advising them to keep their heads down with their eyes on their feet.
It was “horrible,” she said. As they exited, she saw a young, beloved coworker crumpled on the floor. “She’d been shot dead at the front,” Montoya said. “I didn’t mean to see it — but we all loved them. She was always so nice to us, and she was my age,” she continued, her voice breaking. “I think with where she was in the store, almost all of us saw her.”
Meanwhile, Montoya’s boyfriend, Carpenter, had been waiting outside for an hour. He had rushed over from Montoya’s home just a few minutes away and gathered with other people, all unsure whether their loved ones and friends had survived. He had imagined the worst.
Finally, he got a text message from Montoya’s mother, saying that she was OK. Soon after, they spotted one another in the parking lot. They embraced and kissed, a moment captured by a CPR News photographer.
“Just relief,” Carpenter said. “I just hugged her and told her I loved her.”
It was an experience that both had seen play out many times in the news but neither had expected. Just two days earlier, Montoya had been in Florida for a race. That felt like a different world.
“It’s just — it’s all horrible,” Montoya said. “It’s just not something you imagine happening to you.”
She paused, thinking about what her parents in Arkansas must have felt in those awful hours.
“I needed to call them and tell them what was going on, but I can't imagine the fear of hearing your child say, ‘There's an active shooter. I love you. I’ll text you if I can,’” she said.
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