Forza reopens amid promises to never forget

Laurie Tenorio arrived at the Forza Coffee Company in Parkland shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday, standing outside the site where four Lakewood police officers were shot dead two weeks earlier. Like the rest of Pierce County, the state and the country, the killings shocked and saddened the 48-year-old from Graham.

For her, the killings were personal. She played softball with one of the fallen officers – Ronald Owens – at Sprinker Recreation Center and has family who work in law enforcement.

She also used to frequent the same Forza shop where the officers died. On Saturday, it reopened for business with a vow never to forget Lakewood’s fallen four.

“When I heard Forza was going to open up, I said, ‘I must go there,’” said Tenorio, who was the first customer through the door. “This is a celebration of life, the lives of those police officers.”

For two weeks, Forza, a prominent tenant in a strip mall overlooking McChord Air Force Base, was a closed-off crime scene. Instead of serving lattes and mochas, it was known only as the site where Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards lost their lives.

At 8:14 a.m. Saturday – the exact time of the shootings Nov. 29 – Forza illuminated its “Open” sign to the applause of about 150 bundled-up customers who endured freezing temperatures.

Eugene Thompson, manager of Forza LLC, said the last two weeks have been difficult for the coffee chain’s employees.

“I haven’t seen one employee who hasn’t shed a tear over this,” he said.

Saturday’s reopening was important, both for law enforcement and the community. It showed that they are standing together in the face of tragedy, Thompson said.

“There are people who could have been afraid to be here because they fear that there could be retaliation or something like that,” he said. “They’re not. Look at all those people.”

The people whom Thompson referred to were standing in a line that snaked into the parking lot. When the doors opened, they were greeted by a bagpiper, along with a sign over the door that read “Thank You Lakewood Police, we’ll never forget.”

After a few hours, the crowd grew to a couple of hundred people. Inside, a framed memorial with the four officers’ faces and names hung on the wall.

Ron Smith, a detective for Seattle police, was about the 20th person in line. He went to Forza to show support for his fellow officers and help reinforce the community’s bond with law enforcement.

“It’s always important,” he said. “Evil can never prevail when there’s love.”

By 8:21 a.m., Forza began to sound like its familiar self, with coffee machines whirring and customers, initially heavy eyed, engaging in caffeinated conversation.

Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Eakes said that is what coffee shops are about – bringing people together. A single act of evil can’t change that.

Eakes, who owns his own Forza shop in DuPont, was one of about 20 uniformed Lakewood officers who attended Saturday’s reopening in Parkland. He ordered a white chocolate mocha with whipped cream, a change of his pace from his usual nonfat preferences.

He said officers were feeling a lot of emotions, but one thing they’re all sure about is that they want to continue being visible in the community, at gathering places such as coffee shops.

“This is our first day in going in the right direction,” he said.

Police Chief Bret Farrar, who placed the day’s first order before the doors even opened to the public, agreed.

“If we didn’t reopen this place, if we weren’t out in the community, those officers would have died in vain, in my opinion,” he said. “Not being visible – it wasn’t even an option.”

Jennifer Northover of Tacoma said it’s important the community moves forward while remembering the fallen officers.

Her birthday was Dec. 8, the same day that more than 20,000 gathered in the Tacoma Dome for the officers’ memorial service. She spent the day watching the memorial on television, crying for the officers.

Her tears continued Saturday as she stood in line in freezing temperatures.

“To keep this place closed, it would be like we’d be trying to forget,” said Northover, 55. “I don’t think you ever forget.”

“I think this shows that we love our police officers,” she said while trying to hold back more tears.

Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653