KUSA — The loved ones of three people gunned down in a Thornton Walmart got part of what they wanted Friday – the killer will die in prison – but were left grasping for the answer to the biggest question of all: Why?
When Scott Ostrem, 48, was offered the chance to speak at his sentencing hearing, he passed. So did the two attorneys flanking him in a packed Adams County courtroom.
“Today, we were hoping for, when he was asked if he'd like to speak, for some kind of reason,” said Alice Acosta, a sister-in-law of Carlos Moreno, one of Ostrem’s victims. “Although there won't be a reason good enough for us, at least for us to know what his thought was when he did it.
“And he was a coward when it came to that as he was on that night when he went in there with his gun with intentions of killing people.”
Ostrem pleaded guilty a week ago to three counts of first-degree murder after deliberation for the killings of Moreno, 66, Pamela Marques, 52, and Victor Vasquez, 26, as well as a single count of attempted first-degree murder for the 45 other people who were in the area of the cash registers when he started shooting. Ostrem made the deal in exchange for Adams County District Attorney Dave Young taking the potential of the death penalty off the table.
It was just after 6 p.m. on Nov. 1, 2017, when Ostrem pulled up to the store, located at 9901 Grant St., walked inside, pulled out a pistol, and fired seven rounds without saying a word. He then walked out, got in his car, and drove away.
Store security footage allowed detectives to identify his license plate, and he was arrested the next morning.
Friday offered Ostrem’s victims the chance to tell District Judge Mark D. Warner what that night had done to them.
In all, 13 people spoke – many of them through tears – and seven others had letters read aloud in the courtroom. Sometimes the only sound was sobbing among nearly sixty friends and relatives who filled the back benches.
Before they began, Judge Warner reminded people that they were in a place of “solemn justice” and urged people to speak to him – not Ostrem.
Carlene Moreno recounted how her husband of more than 40 years had grown up in an orphanage after being abandoned by his mother and how he “vowed and was determined to be the father he never had” to their three girls.
“Without Carlos, there’s a gaping hole in our lives that can never be filled,” she said.
A letter from the couple’s granddaughter, Callie Moreno, was read by a relative. Callie’s own mother had died, and Carlos and Carlene Moreno adopted their granddaughter and raised her as their own child.
In her letter, Callie recalled sitting with him at a Dairy Queen across from the Walmart before the shooting and thinking, “I love him so much. I’m glad I have him as my dad.”
A short time later, he was gone.
Prosecutor Jess Redman read a letter from Arthur Gutierrez, Marques’ husband.
“All our dreams we had together as a family are gone,” Gutierrez wrote. “Now I’m left feeling guilty that I could not help save her life.”
Jovita Martinez, Vasquez’s mother, recounted struggles with the most menial of tasks.
“Every day, simple things are different,” she said.
Her son was a young father with two daughters and a fiancée who was seven months pregnant when he was killed. Now, Martinez said she lives her life constantly thinking about what happened in that store and how it might have turned out differently.
“If we hadn’t gone to Walmart,” she said. “If Victor hadn’t looked back. If I could have done something to save him. So many ‘what ifs.’”
As one person after another stepped to the microphone in a packed courtroom and recounted the anguish he caused when he opened fire at the busy store on Nov. 1, 2017, he stared straight ahead, betraying no visible reaction.
It was clear that Judge Warner was moved.
“Anyone with a modicum of human emotion would feel a palpable sense of pain and loss” by what he termed “an atrocious act.”
“The lives of Carlos Moreno, Pamela Marques, and Victor Vasquez were violently and tragically taken – or perhaps, more appropriately put, were stolen,” he said.
And then – why?
“There seems to be no motive or rationale for the actions of Mr. Ostrem that night,” Warner said, describing the killer as a man with a “black, malignant heart.”
With that, he sentenced Ostrem to three consecutive life sentences without any possibility of parole – and another 48 years.
Afterward, Young, the district attorney, said the sentence reflected “justice, under the circumstances.”
“We think this is the best outcome,” Young said. “He’s going to die in prison. He’s going to die alone.”
Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: email@example.com or 303-871-1862.