Editor’s note: This story contains graphic descriptions that may be inappropriate for some readers.
There are many steps to reporting a mass shooting: describing the carnage, identifying the dead, discovering motives, interviewing survivors, and covering the inevitable and increasingly-intense political fallout.
But 2021 Enumclaw High graduate Alyson Holwege, who survived the Allen Premium Outlet shooting on May 6, wants to focus on something else — healing and community strength.
“I want to… help Enumclaw understand. This is something that anyone can go through,” she said in a recent interview. “I feel like [my story] could definitely help the Enumclaw community, 100%, grow in this strengthening bond that’s has been torn apart lately.”
Alyson arrived the mall around 3:30 p.m. that Saturday, thinking she was lucky to have found a spot in the overflow parking lot on a day where the campus was extra crowded with people getting ready for Mother’s Day. She works for Grunt Styles, which bills itself as a patriotic apparel store.
As she walked toward her store, she said she saw the shooter, Mauricio Garcia, exit his car in front of the H&M store, just a couple dozen parking spots away from where she was. Several cars were honking because he had parked in the street, Alyson said, and that’s what drew her attention.
“Something felt odd, just watching this gentleman get out of his car. It looked very odd and out of place, and when I’m staring, I just hear one loud pop,” she recalled. “I was frozen for a minute, realizing that those were gunshots and I needed to get to cover then and there.”
Alyson ran south to her building but ended up in Janie and Jack, a nearby children’s clothing store, with several other shoppers.
She first called her mom Kristi Holwege — “I was telling her… ‘Mom, there’s a shooting at work.’ At first, she’s asking, ‘What do you mean?’ and I keep reiterating, ‘There’s a shooter at work, I’ll be fine.’” — who then started a conference call with her father John Holwege. As an Emergency Manager at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord hospital, John started giving his daughter some important life saving advice.
In a later interview, he recalled hearing other people in the background of the phone call that they should lie down.
“I was going, ‘no no no, don’t lay on the floor — that’s the worst idea’,” John said. “When bullets ricochet, they stay right at the ground level… stay standing up.”
Alyson credited time spent with her dad watching FEMA training videos and reading books on both natural and man-made disasters for why she was able to think on her feet, stay calm, and help other people find cover.
At one point, she even made a joke over the phone.
“‘Even though those trainings are boring, right now I’m really glad you made me take them,’” she recalled telling John.
John himself has been involved with helping King County, school districts and first responders develop active shooter plans because of his job, and made sure his daughters knew exactly what to do if they ever found themselves in that situation.
“I have blunt conversations with my kids like that because that’s what I do,” he said.
Although the shooting quickly stopped — Garcias was killed about four minutes after he initially opened fire — Alyson said she stayed in the store, clutching an improvised weapon, for nearly two hours before being evacuated by first responders. Officers brought her back the way she came into the mall, going counterclockwise until exiting between the Adidas and Coach buildings.
“There was blood everywhere. There were spent bullet shells everywhere… everyone’s shoes had glass in them,” she recalled. “The blood and the gunpowder mixing in the air just smelled awful.”
Along the route, she passed the body of Christian LaCour, a mall security guard and one of the eight killed that day; he was partially obscured from view, Alyson said, but she recognized the bright green safety vest he wore.
“He [was] 20 years old, the same as me,” she said, adding he would often walk her to her car when she worked the closing shift. “Him and I never really talked outside of work, but he was a frequent, though, at Grunt Style and I’d always give him my discounts.”
Just a few dozen yards later, she passed the Fatburger where Garcia was shot and described seeing a trail of blood that made its way under several tables, baking in the humid 90-degree heat.
Outside the mall, she was able to reunite with her mother.
“We both fell apart standing on that corner, crying into each other’s arms,” Alyson said.
“I didn’t sleep that night at all. When I did fall asleep Sunday night, I woke up… yelling ‘get down’. I know this is going to haunt me for a very long time,” she continued. “I can’t open soda bottles. I can’t be around cars that backfire. Crowds have been very difficult to be around, and I honestly don’t know when I will be comfortable returning to my place of work.”
The Courier-Herald received an email from Alyson on May 9, only three days after the shooting; she later said she reached out because it was suggested in group therapy that sharing her story could help her and others that have also survived a mass shooting.
“The more I talk my healing and what happened, the more people understand, and the more people I can help,” she said, adding that she’s finding very few “self-help” resources for trauma related to mass shootings. “There’s nothing for us. But… the percentage of people going through this is very steadily increasing, so sharing my voice, and sharing what I went though, can very much still make it visible that, yes, we need resources on how to heal than veteran-based PTSD or complex PTSD that’s more from a traumatic relationship or from domestic violence.”
She also hopes that sharing her story with Enumclaw can help residents come together like it did during the COVID-19 pandemic, bonding over a story of community strength rather than breaking down over political and social differences.
“Everybody back home believes in Enumclaw’s resilience, and I absolutely love Enumclaw’s resilience, especially what I saw between… 2020 to now,” she said. “That perseverance through these hard times has been amazing, and with all of the things going on with the… school threats lately, it just feels like something the town would benefit from knowing.”
“I’m aware that it can inflict a bit of trauma, a bit of paranoia into people, but at the same time, knowing about it can definitely help out a lot of people as well,” Alyson added.
But she is also wary that her story can be co-opted by politicians and people looking to get more clicks and likes on social media.
“This event has already been turned into a political agenda for both parties, and the exploitations of victims and survivors is already just off the walls,” she said.
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a personal position in the ongoing national fight over Second Amendment rights and gun restrictions — and if anything, her views have solidified even more since the shooting.
“I am getting messages asking me if I agree there needs to be gun reform, gun bans. And I don’t agree with that,” she said. “I do believe that, yes, there needs to be more teaching for handle a weapon. People have to go through a safe shooter course before ever handling a gun. I 100% agree with that. But I do not think pulling these weapons off the market is the move to go.”
Alyson believes that the carnage would have been mitigated, or even prevented, if someone else with a firearm was in the right place at the right time at the mall. She noted her friend Christian was not allowed to carry any weapon, even a taser.
“If somebody was there at the scene with a concealed or open carry, this wouldn’t have been such a tragedy,” Alyson said.
One detail stuck out for her during this whole thing — that even in the midst of an active shooter, Alyson wondered if she still needed to show up for her shift.
“I couldn’t believe that this was a situation I was in, to the point where I asked, ‘Do I still need to clock in now? Because this is the time my shift starts,’” she recalled asking her manager in a phone call. “For some reason, in my head, I could not comprehend whatsoever that I was not going to be working.”
Days have passed since the shooting, but the trauma inflicted on Alyson is unlikely to fade anytime soon. Luckily, the Allen Police Department was able to connect survivors to mental health providers as soon as the day after the shooting, and her employer has also set up group therapy sessions.
And while her voice cracks and shakes when she retells her story, Alyson is determined to use the experience to follow in her dad’s footsteps.
“I’m actually looking to get a college degree in emergency preparedness,” she said.
The Courier-Herald attempted to contact the Allen Police Department multiple times to confirm details of the shooting, but no calls were returned.