(Reuters) – Moments before a gunman opened fire in the Colorado supermarket that had provided her with a well-loved job and co-workers who felt like family, Darcey Lopez glanced up at the clock.
At 2:26 p.m. local time she had four minutes left on her shift, and two pieces of cheese still to wrap before going home to meet a leasing agent for a possible new apartment.
Shots rang out, and she hit the floor behind the Murray’s Cheese Shop concession inside the King Soopers market where she worked.
“There’s nowhere to go,” she thought. Trying to run for the door could put her in the gunman’s sight. “We didn’t know where the shots were coming from.”
Lopez, 46, described the physical and emotional toll of hiding in terror from a gunman who killed ten people on Monday at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, where she works, in an interview with Reuters. She was not injured in the shooting, but like other survivors, she is now struggling to come to terms with the horror and trauma of the day.
Desperate for a safe hiding place that afternoon, Lopez squeezed herself into a small cabinet beneath the cheese-wrapping station. Her co-worker at the cheese stand was 6’5″ – too tall to fit in the cabinet, so he pressed himself down into the floor.
She told Reuters that as she heard shots ring out, she feared the gunman could come around the corner at any moment.
The shooting stopped, then started up again.
“Almost an hour went by,” Lopez said. “Then I saw the laser beam light from a SWAT team officer reflecting off the deli freezer doors.”
She tried to get their attention.
“I tried to yell ‘help! help!’ and I couldn’t get anything out,” she said. “My voice just wouldn’t reflect my effort.”
Her co-worker saw her struggling and used his own voice to call out, leading the SWAT team around the corner of the cheese stand to help them out.
Still wearing her red Murray’s Cheese Shop jacket and limping from leg cramps caused by an hour in the cabinet, she clung to her co-worker as they picked their way out of the store to stand with other victims. Police loaded the survivors on to buses and took them to the station, where they learned that ten people had been murdered – three of them were her colleagues.
GRIEF AND TRAUMA
That night, Lopez developed a fever that wracked her with chills. She has since learned that such a reaction can be caused by trauma and stress. Two days later, she hasn’t yet slept through the night – the gunfire that is constantly going off in her head keeps waking her up.
“I still hear the gunshots in the store – it’s just something that kept playing over and over in my mind for about the first 24 hours. Now it’s at night. It’s really bad at night.”
Lopez said she saw a grief counselor at the police station following the shooting. “Thank God for her,” she said. “She actually lives a block from our store and is one of our customers.”
Kroger, which owns the King Soopers chain, and her union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, held a gathering at a Best Western hotel in town on Tuesday, giving the tight-knit group of employees a chance to connect and talk.
She loved these people – ever since she signed on at the store five years ago to work in the Starbucks concession, then set her eye on the bright red jackets and the fun staff at Murray’s Cheese Shop.
Now, the group would be forever changed.
By Wednesday, Lopez’ fever had subsided, but she was still remembering the sound of gunshots. She’s angrier every day that a person can so easily go and purchase semi-automatic weapons to carry out a massacre.
“My kids have grown up in this world,” she said, listing schools and locations in Colorado where mass shootings have taken place: “Columbine, the movie theater shooting, everything we’ve had to go through.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Aurora Ellis)