How much power does a name hold?
For Steve Jones, the name Eric Talley has been powerful enough to leave him in shock twice in his life.
Once was in 2007, when Jones, director of the graduate program in Ball State’s Center for Information and Communication Sciences (CICS), was teaching classes in Australia for six months and received a three-page-long email from Talley. The May 2004 graduate of the Ball State Master of Science program asked Jones for his blessing to name his son “Stephan” in honor of his former professor.
“I printed the email out, and I’ve saved it over the years,” Jones said. “As if I did something for him, which I didn’t — I treated him just like I would any other student … I can tell you the day that he brought his son to my office — I’ll probably start crying — he bent down to his son and said, ‘Stephan, this is the man that I named you after,’ [and] I fell apart.”
The second time was the morning of March 23, 2021. The day started the same way it had since 1974, with Jones reading the Wall Street Journal. He “almost had a heart attack” when he saw the name Eric Talley listed as one of the victims in a Boulder, Colorado, mass shooting.
The King Soopers shooting in Boulder, Colorado was the seventh mass killing this year in the United States, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.
Victims of the King Soopers shooting in Boulder, Colorado: Denny Strong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Officer Eric Talley, 51; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; Jody Waters, 65.
Source: Associated Press
This wasn’t a coincidence. This wasn’t someone else with the name Eric Talley. This was the man who wrote Jones that email asking to name his son Stephan almost 15 years ago.
“To have him taken like that … I’m confident what he was doing — I don't have to ask anybody, I know what he was doing — he was going in to help people,” Jones said. “That was Eric Talley, and he was on his way in to help people not be killed.”
Talley, 51, was shot and killed responding to the scene of a King Soopers supermarket shooting March 22. He joined the Boulder Police Department in 2010 and worked on the force for 11 years.
Nine other people were killed in the supermarket shooting. Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said one suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, was arrested and charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder, according to a press release from the Boulder Police Department.
At a March 22 press conference, Herold described Talley’s actions as heroic. She said he was the first on the scene after the police department received the call saying shots were fired at the supermarket.
“I am grateful for the police officers that responded,” Herold said, “but I’m so sorry for the loss of Officer Talley.”
Herold said the police department will be “working night and day” on its investigation to get the Boulder community answers and ensure community safety.
Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty also spoke at the press conference and said his heart goes out to Talley’s loved ones and colleagues.
“He was, by all accounts, one of the outstanding officers in the police department, and his life was cut short,” Dougherty said.
President Joe Biden held a press conference March 23 regarding the shooting and thanked the police and first responders in Boulder, specifically Talley. Biden also sent his condolences to Talley’s family, specifically his seven children and wife, Leah Talley.
“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,” Biden said.
Ball State released a statement on Twitter about the shooting, calling Talley a hero and saying “we honor Officer Talley and his family, friends and fellow officers.”
Earl Parsons, former operator and head instructor of the Muncie American School of Tae Kwon Do, was Talley’s tae kwon do instructor from 1998-2006.
Talley was the first student Parsons coached to the black-belt level in 2001. During his time at the dojo, Parsons said, Talley was a volunteer instructor for other students.
“Eric was probably one of the best people I’ve ever known — absolutely straightforward, and full of positive energy and was a really good person to be around,” Parsons said. “I can guarantee you right now, in the Muncie community, there are thousands of people who know and remember Eric Talley.”
Greg Fallon, Ball State chief digital marketing and communications officer, said the university will include Talley’s family in any memorial planning.
The university will also be flying all flags at half-mast until sunset March 27, per President Joe Biden and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s orders.
The CICS department put out a statement on its Facebook page March 23 detailing the heroic actions of Talley and commending his choice to join the Boulder police force in 2010.
“Please join us in mourning the loss of a CICS alum gone far too soon and leaving behind a family who is forever changed,” the post stated. “As a first responder in Boulder yesterday, Officer Talley is rightfully being called a hero, we echo that completely and mourn this tragic loss deeply.”
Frank Groom, Ball State professor of information and communication sciences, said “we in CICS are shocked” after the death of Talley.
Groom was Talley’s professor for three of his classes in the 2003-04 school year. He said Talley was a top student and leader in each of his classes. Talley also spent time doing activities for the Ball State and Muncie communities, and Groom described him as a role model, even as a student.
“One of our own has died while giving back to the community. That is what we try to instill in all our students,” Groom said via email. “[Talley] lived what we ask [of] all our graduates.”
Groom said Jones was the first person in the department to connect Talley to Ball State.
“Steve was the one who first tied the name of Eric the Boulder policeman with our CICS graduate Eric Talley,” Groom said. “We all knew of the tragedy but did not know it had involved one of us from Ball State.”
Jones said he knew Talley had moved to Boulder years ago, but he hoped when he saw headlines that the police officer killed wasn’t the same person he knew.
“I saw the name before I saw his picture, and I know he’s out there,” Jones said. “I said, ‘This can’t be the Eric Talley that I know.’ Then, when I scrolled another half a page and I saw his face, I went, ‘Crap.’ I didn’t use that word because I’ve been trying to give up swearing for Lent, but it didn’t work [Tuesday] morning.”
On March 23, Jones said, his email was flooded with CICS alumni asking what they could do to help Talley’s family. Jones said the CICS department has hosted memorial services for alumni who have died in previous years, but he will ask Talley’s family members what they want Ball State to do in his memory.
Jones said he emailed Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns and suggested the university offer free tuition for Talley’s seven children.
“Being able to do that for someone like Eric Talley, who was a double alum from this university … I think that’s the least we can do to show our respect and thank him for what he gave to the community in Boulder,” Jones said. “That’s part of the [Beneficence] guidelines that we live by — being generous by default. I don’t think it would be too difficult of a stretch for us to be able to make that happen.”
Fallon said in an email university officials are still discussing how they will honor Talley and whether offers of tuition for his children will be considered.
“If President Mearns gets involved — that’s my biggest hope is that he reaches out to [Leah Talley] and extends the opportunity to help financially with those children and their education,” Jones said.
While Jones said he was devastated to see the news of Talley’s death, he knows his personal pain doesn’t equal what Talley’s family is experiencing.
“Anybody who has the love of family like Eric does will understand how devastating this is to all of his children,” he said. “If you look at your own family, and if you think of that tragedy happening to yourselves, how devastating that would be.”
Emily Harless also contributed to this article.
Contact Maya Wilkins with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mayawilkinss. Contact Grace McCormick with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @graceMc564.