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BOULDER, Colo (KDVR) — Take a good look at Denny Stong’s senior photos, and you’ll notice a seemingly rough exterior.

But friends say behind the motorcycle and leather jacket, Stong was one of the sweetest young men you will ever meet. 

“I think behind the leather jacket and the roughness, was really, a really sweet young man,” says Rose Lupinacci.

Lupinacci is an assistant principal at Fairview High School, where Stong graduated in 2019. 

He worked at the King Soopers and was frequently seen in the self-checkout line. 

“He would always make a point to say hi,” said Lupinacci. “A lot of times students may not want to see their assistant principal outside of school, but Denny made a point to say hi.”

According to witnesses, Stong was inside the store when a gunman entered Monday and started shooting. 

What happened next surprises nobody who knew him.

“I believe he had a knife that he had on him to cut the assailant, and that’s why he was bleeding,” says his friend Logan Smith. “He’s a hero.”

Stong was an avid model plane builder and an active member of the Boulder Aeromodeling Society. His ultimate goal was to become a pilot, according to friends.

BAS President Aidan Sesnic said, in part, We at the club are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of his passing as well as all of the innocent individuals who perished yesterday. It’s shocking to see events like this so close to home.”

The woman who took his senior photos, Lisa Siciliano, says she was at the King Soopers when it happened and immediately thought of Stong. 

“I heard the shots because I was in the parking lot,” she said. “The very first face that came to my mind was his face, and I was like oh God, I really hope it’s not him.”

Lupinacci says reports of Stong trying to stop the gunman are exactly what she’d expect from him. 

“Denny would be the kid that would go — He wouldn’t run away from shots. He’d go toward them. And he’d try to take out the guy, or God yes, he would try to help people.”