As news began to trickle out about a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday, the tragedy hit close to home for the alumni of Highland High School in Southeast Albuquerque.
Officer Eric Talley, who was shot and killed as he responded to a shooter at the King Soopers grocery store, was raised in Albuquerque and graduated from the school in 1988.
Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold teared up at a news conference as she described Talley as heroic and said the 11-year veteran of the force was one of the first on the scene and was fatally shot. The 51-year-old father of seven was one of 10 people killed.
Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, of the Denver suburb Arvada, is charged with 10 counts of murder in the first degree. He was injured and taken to a hospital, but police expected him to be booked into jail Tuesday.
Former Albuquerque resident Kerry O’Bryant, who now lives in Nebraska, said a couple of his former classmates started messaging him Monday night, asking, “Is this our Eric Talley?”
“I Googled it and, as soon as I saw the picture, I was, like, ‘oh no,’ ” O’Bryant said. “I knew 100% that was Eric.”
O’Bryant said he and Talley met in fifth grade at Whittier Elementary School and attended Wilson Middle School and Highland High School together. He said they played soccer with the American Youth Soccer Organization and had fun doing “whatever typical fifth and sixth graders do,” but started to drift apart in high school and lost touch after graduation.
He said that over the past 24 hours, he has been talking to lots of old friends about their classmate.
“I think one of the recurring themes that I’ve heard from Eric’s friends and our mutual friends is that if there was anyone who was potentially going to be able to go in and defuse a bad situation, it was him – because he was such a lovable person,” O’Bryant said. “I know everyone says nice things about somebody after they pass away, but I’m telling you the truth: He was the most liked person in our class. He wasn’t necessarily Mr. Jock or Mr. Popularity or whatever, but everybody liked Eric. There was nobody who didn’t.”
On Highland High School’s alumni Facebook page, friends and acquaintances shared memories of Talley.
“Oh, Eric. Such a funny, sweet, and kind guy. I was lucky enough to play AYSO soccer with him. Played in the Wilson and Highland orchestras with him, and hung out at his house in the late ’70s pretending we were Lieutenant Starbuck and Captain Apollo,” Rob Sobak wrote.
Sobak told the Journal he, too, met Talley at Whittier and played soccer with him. He said he was both surprised and not surprised to learn that Talley had become a police officer later in life.
Talley’s father told The New York Times his son joined the police force as a second career after leaving the IT field.
“When I read the stories of how he had helped people as an officer, I recognized Eric in those stories,” Sobak said. “Him being patient and kind, and generous. He was a gentle soul.”
In 2013, Talley was included in an article in Boulder’s Daily Camera as one of three officers who rescued a gaggle of baby ducks trapped in a drainage ditch. The officers had tried to coax the ducklings close enough to scoop them up with a net, but their efforts were unsuccessful, so Talley waded into the calf-deep water to round them up.
Talley’s father – now living on a ranch near Abilene, Texas – told The New York Times his son was born in Houston and raised in Albuquerque.
“At age 40, he decided he wanted to serve his community,” Homer “Shay” Talley, 74, told The Associated Press. “He left his desk job. He just wanted to serve, and that’s what he did. He just enjoyed the police family.”
Family told news organizations that more recently, Talley had been training as a drone operator, so he would no longer be on the front lines. Talley’s younger sister, 49-year-old Kirstin Brooks, told The Washington Post that her brother was very protective of her – scaring off those who were picking on her as a child and calling to check in frequently now that they’re adults.
She described his family, with children ages 7 to 20, as “very quiet, a good, sweet, tight, close family.”
Scott Elder, superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools, said it’s “unfathomable to imagine what the survivors of yesterday’s mass shooting and the loved ones of those killed are going through” and expressed condolences on behalf of the district for all the lives lost.
“Like so many of our graduates, Officer Talley could have done anything he wanted with his life, and he chose to serve and protect,” Elder wrote. “In our sadness and grief, I hope we can remember the example Officer Talley leaves us all. We won’t forget Officer Talley put others before himself, was dedicated to public service and, by all accounts, loved his family deeply.”