As an older brother, Eric Talley was always protective.
If his sister ever got in trouble when they were kids, he would take the blame. If she was picked on in school, he would make sure people knew not to mess with his little sister, Kirstin Brooks said of her brother, a 51-year-old police officer who was one of 10 people killed Monday when a gunman opened fire inside a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo.
That protectiveness carried into their relationship as adults. Talley would often call and check in with Brooks, 49, reminding her to take care of herself. He was the same way with his own family – his wife and his seven children, ages seven to 20. Brooks described them as “a good, sweet, tight, close family.”
Brooks said she had a sense of what had gone through her brother’s mind Monday.
“I honestly know my brother, when he heard there was a shooting in a supermarket, I know his first thought was ‘There are kids in there,’ ” Brooks said. “He loved his kids. His family shopped at King Soopers.”
“I know Eric would have wanted to save every single one of those lives. I know why he flew in there first, because he was thinking, there are families in that store.”
Talley was among the first responders to run in to the supermarket on Monday, and was fatally shot along with nine others. The oldest victim was 65 and the youngest 20.
More than a decade before the shooting, Eric Talley had a stable job in information technology that provided for his kids and his wife, who educated their children in their Colorado home.
But in 2010, after one of his closest friends died in a DUI crash, he quit, left behind his master’s degree and enrolled in the police academy at age 40, according to his friends and family.
“It was remarkable to me that somebody would go to law enforcement from IT,” Jeremy Herko, a lieutenant with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, told The Washington Post. “He lost pay. He lost time away from his family. He joined the police academy without a guaranteed job.”
Brooks, detailing all the things she said her brother excelled at – he had a black belt in Karate, he was an “extremely fast” runner, he “once made a little engine out of a racecar” – said he was “just talented and gifted and loved.”
In remarks about the shooting, President Joe Biden spoke about Talley and shared his “deepest condolences to his family, his close, close family.”
“When he pinned on that badge yesterday morning, he didn’t know what the day would bring,” Biden said. “Every time an officer walks out of his or her home, pins that badge on, the family member they just said goodbye to, wonders whether, subconsciously, will they get that call, the call that his wife got,” Biden said.
“But when the moment to act came, officer Talley did not hesitate in his duty, making the ultimate sacrifice in his effort to save lives. That’s the definition of an American hero.”
At a news conference late Monday, Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold held back tears and called Talley’s actions “heroic.”
“I am so sorry about the loss of Officer Talley,” Herold said.
Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver Tuesday called Talley a “truly heroic public servant” who “joins the ranks of six other Boulder police officers who have laid down their lives for the people of our city.”
Herko said he and Talley bonded almost instantly after meeting.
“He is drawn to people, and people are drawn to him,” Herko said. “It’s easy to be drawn to a guy like that. I was fortunate that he liked me, as well.”
At the academy, Talley shared how his friend’s death had motivated him to join the force. “He was pretty driven to join law enforcement,” Herko said.
After Talley obtained his certification, he joined the Boulder Police Department in 2010 and eventually took on “numerous roles,” Herold said.
As an officer, Talley first made headlines for a heartwarming act of animal rescue. Brooks, who called her brother a “very peaceful and good man” who “hated violence,” said he supported organizations like the ASPCA.
In 2013, he was part of a trio of officers who rescued 11 small ducklings and their mother trapped in a drainage ditch, the Daily Camera reported. During the nearly one-hour operation, the paper reported, officers first used a net to try to catch the family of ducklings.
When that did not work, Talley trudged through the calf-deep water to round up the ducks by hand as another officer grabbed them one by one.
“He was drenched after this,” Boulder police Sgt. Jack Walker said of Talley at the time. “They would go into these little pipes, and he would have to try and fish them out.”
Talley worked for a time in the Martin Acres neighborhood, where he met with residents and helped set up a “community-based” police initiative, the neighborhood newsletter reported in 2015.
When Talley was not patrolling the streets, Herko said, he was the type of father who bought a 15-passenger van so his large family would be more comfortable on the road.
“That was his life,” Herko said. “He absolutely loved his job and wanted to serve the community.”
Herko said he last spoke to Talley on Sunday. Herko had sent him a picture of his family playing a board game Talley had recommended. Soon after learning about the shooting on Monday, Herko said, he texted Talley to make sure he was OK.
“But of course, he did not respond,” Herko said.
Outside the grocery store late Monday, a procession of police cars escorted the ambulance carrying Talley’s body as officers and first responders stood along the road saluting and holding an American flag.
His father, Homer Talley, told KMGH that his son was working to become a drone operator, a job he thought would be safer.
“He loved his kids and his family more than anything,” his father said. “He didn’t want to put his family through something like this, and he believed in Jesus Christ.”
Brooks said she often urged her brother to be careful at work. “I am careful,” Talley would insist, telling his sister he believed Boulder was relatively safe.
Above all, she said, he “loved his family, he was just a good man.”
“Everybody in that grocery store has a sweet family member, sweet people that miss them and that are aching,” she said, “That’s what Eric was trying to prevent – that grief. He would be heartbroken for those families. We are too, my whole family is heartbroken.”