Less than a day after Denver Police Officer Celena Hollis was shot and killed while trying to break up a fight at City Park, more than 150 people -- activists, preachers, mothers and teenagers -- gathered at the District 2 police headquarters in northeast Denver to thank the officers who worked alongside Hollis on the 6 a.m.-to-4 p.m. shift. The officers listened, some of them with tears in their eyes, as the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
"Everybody woke up with the same heavy heart this morning," said state Senator Mike Johnston, who shares an office in northeast Park Hill with youth violence prevention organization The Prodigal Son Initiative. Their block was the site of non-fatal gunshots this past weekend; one incident occurred just hours before Hollis was killed.
"The police officers are not calling it the 'Summer of Violence' yet," said state Representative Angela Williams, who helped host the thank-you, in reference to the summer of 1993, when concerns about youth violence sparked swept through the community. "But let's not let it get there."
Community members sign a poster at District 2 headquarters.
Organizers invited the officers to speak, and a few addressed the crowd. "We're all hurting," said District 2 Commander Mike Calo. "This community cares about the police. I get phone calls and e-mails and other forms of communication about the professionalism and the hard work and the dedication.... And today, we see that manifested here."
"Even though some of us fight against police brutality, that doesn't mean we're against the police," said Terrance Roberts, founder and director of The Prodigal Son Initiative.
"We appreciate your work," he told the officers.
Terrance Roberts addresses the crowd, as District 2 officers stand behind him.
A handful of community members took to the microphone, as well. "She came from Detroit, Michigan!" a man named John Marsh said of Hollis. "For her to come to Denver and have one of our own children take her life? Enough, Denver! Enough!"
Page down to continue reading about the community thank-you for Denver Police. Among those crowded into the conference room at District 2 headquarters was the Messer family -- dad Jeff, mom Heidi and their three teenage children -- who were just feet away from Hollis when she was shot at City Park. Heidi Messer recalls hearing what sounded like fireworks and then someone shouting "Get down! Get down!" Daughter Kendall says she saw the shooter fire the gun over his shoulder. Hollis was hit in the head.
"I watched her die," says Jeff Messer. "It could have been any of us."
A District 2 police officer hugs a child.
City councilman Albus Brooks was at City Park for the Jazz in the Park series on Sunday night. "Chris Zacher came up to me, who runs City Park Jazz, and he said, 'Celena thinks there might be some activity tonight,'" Brooks recalled. "And about a couple hours later, she was shot."
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But Brooks echoed Mayor Michael Hancock, who urged residents yesterday to continue to support the weekly outdoor jazz concert. "We need the community to come, just like you came today," Brooks said. "A big piece of this is showing up next Sunday night and saying, you know what? We're standing as one.... We are not shutting this down."
The Messers, who live in the neighborhood and have been going to jazz series for years, say they'll be back. "We'll absolutely keep going," Jeff Messer says.
More from our Mile High Murder archive: "Justin O'Donnell slaying: Denzel Richardson, Marquise Davis charged with murder one (3, 4)."