Lakewood’s tight knit community of ethnic Serbs gathered to remember one of their own Saturday, a young man gunned down with nine others at a Boulder King Soopers last week.
The service for 23-year-old Neven Stanisic was held at St. John the Baptist Serbian Orthodox Church, a parish Stanisic had been part of since childhood. About 100 people packed into the small and ornately decorated chapel, including Gov. Jared Polis, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, Reps. Joe Neguse and Ed Perlmutter and other state and local officials.
Stanisic had a job fixing and maintaining coffee machines and had just finished servicing one at the Starbucks within the Table Mesa Drive King Soopers. He was gunned down after getting back in his car to leave, likely the first fatality in the massacre on March 22nd.
“It is very difficult to say any words of comfort in this incredibly difficult and heartbreaking moment,” said Rev. Sasha Petrovic, who travelled from an orthodox church in Omaha, Nebraska to give the eulogy for Stanisic. Those gathered each held a white candle, grasping them below paper discs meant to catch the dripping wax.
Petrovic went on to describe a conversation he had with Neven’s mother, Mirjana, who saw her son’s car as the focus of live TV coverage as the shooting unfolded.
“Her first thought was not whether her son [was] among the ones who got shot,” Petrovic said. “Her first thought was ‘Oh my god, did my son do something terrible?’ So, there is something more terrible than to be an innocent victim.”
About 150 Serbian families live in the greater Denver Metro Area and the Lakewood church is a primary gathering place for the deeply religious culture. The chapel itself is new, only having opened in 2016.
The funeral lasted more than an hour, consisting of traditional hymns sung first in the parishioners’ native Serbian and then in English. But the most omnipresent and haunting sound was the desperate grief of Neven’s father, Radmilo Stanisic. He and Mirjana immigrated to Colorado in the late 1990s after fleeing the violence of war in Bosnia. They hoped to find a better and a safer life in the United States.
Radmilo cried out in Serbian throughout the service. Mirjana, daughter Nikolina and other family members reached out, each holding onto Radmilo with one hand as he stood and wept in the front pew. His son’s coffin was a rich mahogany, and a final Orthodox tradition allowed close family to kiss a golden cross inlaid at the head of the coffin--to say last goodbyes. At this, Radmilo draped himself over the coffin, weeping loudly. His family was still holding him. They were all grieving a life lost and future stolen.
Rev. Petrovich said despite the horror surrounding his death, Neven had lived honorably.
“In our holy orthodox faith, Serbian orthodox culture, honor is more precious than even this life on this earth,” he said.
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