It was another great Sunday afternoon. Well, great may be a bit of a stretch; the weather was, in a word, hot. The temperature pushed close to 100° in City Park that afternoon, but those that were brave enough to endure the heat didn’t care; it was going to be a great evening. And for all intents and purposes it was; the friends, the music, the food, it was all boding to be an all around perfect afternoon.
Shortly after the end of the music, a few loud bangs were heard. Fireworks, someone nearby mentioned, which seemed careless because of the tinderbox conditions all over the state of Colorado lately. But then the stampede of people began; first from far away, the just along the path adjacent from where we were sitting. It was surreal in that moment; no one seemed to know what was happening, just that those bangs heard earlier were not fireworks, but gunshots. Some said two, others said four, and still others claimed to have heard more. Whatever the actual number, it seemed that the evenings activities in City Park had come to an end even sooner than anticipated.
The mass exodus began, with people scrambling to grab their belongings at get the hell out of there. Crying children clung to their frazzled parents, dogs cowered as their owners pulled them through the fearful crowd. One of the most heartbreaking scenes was one of a sobbing mother frantically searching for her lost child. In the chaos he had become separated from her, but luckily someone had found him and convinced him to stay put till his mom found him. It was a beautiful reunion and a bright spot in an evening that had become so tragic.
By the time I reached my car, I heard that someone had been shot; possibly in the head, but still hanging on to life. It wasn’t clear at that time who the victim was, but it didn’t look good. The suspect at that point was unaccounted for, but would soon be apprehended by authorities. As I drove away, I realized I was bit more frazzled from the events than I had thought. I proceeded to a local bar join friends for a farewell cocktail for a dear friend moving away. I hoped it would help to shake my mood.
By the time I joined them, news had spread of the events that had unfolded in the park that afternoon. Yes there was a shooting, no I didn’t see anything directly, yes I was alright, and no, I didn’t know anything more than that. A police officer and friend shared with me that the victim had indeed been a fellow officer; a young mother with a pre teen daughter. It saddened me even further to think of a 12-year-old girl who had lost her mother. A couple of drinks and I was ready to get out of there, and seek the refuge of my own space.
The next morning it was all over the news. Celena Hollis, 32, a seven-year veteran with the Denver Police Department had lost her life in the line of duty while breaking up a fight that occurred during the final moments of the show at City Park. A good officer, she was seen as somewhat of a star among her fellow officers; as president of the Black Police Officers Organization. That organization credited Hollis with “taking over an organization without a voice and giving it a voice.”
26 years ago, after Denver’s notorious “Summer of Violence,” a group got together and decided to organize the live outdoor music series known as “Jazz in the Park.” Its purpose was to take back Denver’s streets and parks, and make it safe for individuals and families. Up until this past Sunday, it had done just that. And organizers of the park series have vowed that it will continue as intended. This Sunday’s concert will be held in honor of Officer Hollis. According to those who knew her, she would like that; she had been patrolling the event almost as long as her tenure on the force.
From my peripheral view of the events of Sunday, and the aftermath, I learned one thing for certain; Denver is a city with a heat. When something this tragic occurs, it affects each and every person on some level. The outpouring of support has been a true testament to the hearts of those fortunate enough to live in our city. I for one am proud of us, and proud to call Denver home.
On Sunday, July 1st the organization “Girlz Pushing the Button” will be holding an event in honor of Officer Celena Hollis from 2:00pm to 4:00pm at Eden Bar and Cuisine Lounge, 3090 Downing Street. Co-hosting the event will be State Representative Angela Williams and Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks. All the proceeds of the event will go to the Celena Hollis Fund, and checks for the event should be made payable to the same. Learn more by following this link.
On a personal note, I never knew Officer Hollis, but I wish I had. I wish I had the chance to thank her for putting her own personal safety on the line every day. I wish I could thank her for being a positive role model for her daughter, as well as her community. She gave her life for the job she loved, and I for one will never forget, and will always be grateful.