Energetic. Optimistic. Competitive.
Friends and colleagues of Eric Talley painted a picture of the Boulder Police officer who was killed in a mass shooting at his memorial service on Tuesday.
They described a man who taught his seven children about service to others. A man who found the joy in the little things. A person who freely and often gave his time and energy to others. A hero.
“Eric died a hero, giving his all to save others,” said Boulder Police Sgt. Adrian Drelles, Talley’s supervisor. “He did not die in vain and he did not die alone. He was with his brothers and sisters in blue … I know we will see you again someday until then we have your back and we will continue the work where you left off.”
A public memorial service drew thousands, from family and close friends to strangers
The memorial service, attended by between 2,000-3,000 people, mostly law officers from as far away as New York, followed a funeral procession that carried his flag-draped casket in a hearse that wound down Interstate 25 to the Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette. Many placed black tape over their badges, a sign of respect when one of their own dies on the job.
Talley, an 11-year veteran of the Boulder Police Department, ran into a Boulder King Soopers on March 22 after reports of a shooting inside and was killed by a gunman. He was the first officer on the scene of the mass shooting that killed nine other people.
The memorial service, punctuated by a seven-gun salute and bagpipes, was open to the public. People were encouraged to watch on a live stream because of COVID-19 restrictions on crowds, but Anabel Serrano wanted to be there in person.
She drove from Broomfield and then walked several blocks to the church because parking was reserved for law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders. Serrano said she didn’t know Talley.
“But I came for the memory of all police, because it's a big job they do, taking care of all of us,” she said in Spanish. “That’s why my heart is so sad for the fallen officer in King Soopers in Boulder.”
People who spoke at the service described Talley, 51, as a good husband and father, a joy-filled friend, a dedicated police officer, and a man of faith.
Talley, who was born in Houston, Texas, and graduated from high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, left behind a wife and seven children, ages 7 to 20.
Talley became a police officer later in life after feeling 'a higher calling'
Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said that Talley’s compassion and approach to helping those in need is reflected by phone calls and letters from behavioral health professionals and those the officer helped on patrol.
“In so many of the letters our department received during Eric's tenure, people wrote about the extra steps Eric took to bring them comfort,” Herold said.
Talley earned a Master's degree from Ball State University in computer science in 2001 and worked in the tech industry for six years before becoming a police officer. He "felt a higher calling" at the age of 40 and took a job in the police force, a childhood dream, according to Talley’s obituary.
“He would often jokingly acknowledge that he entered the police force because it was less stressful than trouble-shooting computer systems,” it said.
Talley, whom Herold called a “technical guru,” was one of the first officers to join the department’s drone team in 2017. He took part in more than 100 drone operations and was well-versed in 3D mapping and modeling.
“This passion was motivated not only by his inherent curiosity, but Eric firmly believed that this kind of technology would become critical to protecting the public while keeping officers safe,” she said.
Herold also addressed Talley’s seven children, who were seated in the church’s front rows.
“Your father was kind. Your father died a hero,” she said. “There is no doubt because of his bravery and quick action that dozens of innocent lives were saved. I hope this brings solace to you all in the years ahead.”
In 2019, his children wrote a poem for their father for Christmas. The poem, “Our Unsung Hero,” was printed inside the funeral pamphlet and signed by each of his children. It recounts the ways he was there for them and how he risks his life at work “to guard and care for the welfare of the needy.”
“May the Angels watch over you / And guard you on your way,” the last stanza reads. “May God bless and protect you / And bring you home each day.”
Boulder Police Sgt. Adrian Drelles recalled the “longest most emotional car ride of my life” as he, the station’s deputy chief, and a chaplain traveled to the Talley home to break the news of the officer’s death. Drelles said he was shaking. What happened next was unexpected, he said, a moment that showed how Talley had taught his children to serve others first.
“Eric's kids jumped into action, started making phone calls. And instead, they gave me comfort and the darkest hour of their life, they made sure that we were OK,” Drelles said.
There was a light, fun-loving side to Talley, who was described as someone who loved board games, flyfishing, golf, basketball and “Star Wars” movies. He also had a black belt in karate. Drelles said Talley was a quick learner with a big heart and sense of humor. He was also very talkative.
“As his supervisor, I can easily describe Eric. He was a pain in my butt,” Drelles said, prompting laughter. “Eric has two speeds at work: talkaholic and honey badger. Eric was the kind of guy that would respond to a call, even if he knew he was not needed, just to offer his help or opinion. He would then call to tell me about it almost every single time.”
At the end of the service, Herold did a traditional final radio call for Talley, signifying his end of watch.
“We have the watch from here.”
'We're all grieving ... I want it to show my heart is with everybody'
Before and after the service, dozens of Larimer County Sheriff’s deputies on horses lined the funeral procession route on South Boulder Road in Lafayette. They were joined by dozens of members of the Colorado division of the Patriot Guard Riders, carrying American flags and standing silently as hundreds of ambulances, firetrucks and patrol cars from across the state slowly drove by.
Lexy Olsen came with her four children who knelt by a “Back the Blue” flag. Her husband is a Lafayette firefighter. She came to the funeral procession with her friend, whose husband is a police officer. The women feel a kinship with the Talley family. Like the Talleys, they are Catholic, they homeschool their children, and their husbands are first responders.
“We can only imagine the pain that they are going through,” Olsen said. “We want them to know that we are here and we are praying for them. We want them to know that we love them and we care about them.”
Don Rohacek of Lone Tree said he volunteered last week as a member of the Colorado Fallen Hero Foundation to watch over Talley's memorial in front of the Boulder Police Department. Day after day, he said he met people who said Talley had touched or changed their life.
One man told Rohacek about an encounter he had with Talley when he was 18 years old. He said Talley could have arrested him but decided not to do so. The man, now 22, hopes to soon graduate from university and enlist in the military.
“And he credited officer Talley with helping him set himself on the right path and be able to achieve the dreams that he would not have been able to achieve, if officer Talley had not taken the actions that he had,” Rohacek said.
Larry Ralston is a retired California police officer who lives in the same neighborhood as the Talley family. He said that Talley just wanted to serve the community, but being a police officer is tough.
“One of the risks that we all take is knowing that it could be your last day. When you go to work and you don't come home. That whole part of being a police officer,” Ralston said. “People just don't understand, because they haven't lived it.”
Talley was among the first group officers who arrived at the scene of the shooting, according to police. At the memorial service, officers said that no civilian was injured or died after Talley arrived at the grocery store.
That fact overwhelms Marilyn Messersmith, who stood alone outside in the cold for more than an hour looking straight at the occupants of every patrol car that passed.
“I am so grateful for all the police officers and all the safety personnel because they go out and do their jobs every day. I'm just so sad for all the victims and the seven kids of Officer Tally. It just breaks my heart. So that's what I came to do today,” she said. “To show my respect and to say thank you.”
Messersmith, who rested her hand on her heart the entire procession, said her gesture means she’s thinking of the community.
“We're all grieving. And I want it to show my heart is with everybody.”
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