Colorado shooting suspect was paranoid, family says; asked for his mother after killings; bought gun 6 days before rampage

Christal Hayes, USA TODAY
·8 min read

The 21-year-old suspect arrested in a shooting rampage inside a Colorado grocery store was described by family as anti-social and paranoid and had purchased an assault weapon just six days before police say he shot and killed 10 people.

Police say the suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, began his attack Monday around 2:30 p.m. local time at King Soopers in Boulder, Colo., which is about 25 miles northwest of Denver and home to the University of Colorado. He took 10 lives, among them Officer Eric Talley, 51, a father of seven who was the first to respond to the grocery store.

The victims have been identified as Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Eric Talley, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; Jody Waters, 65.

The assault came just days after eight people were killed by a gunman at three spas in and around Atlanta. It is the seventh mass killing this year in the U.S., according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA TODAY and Northeastern University.

Alissa, who is from the Denver suburb of Arvada, was booked into the county jail Tuesday on murder charges after being treated at a hospital. He was due to make a first court appearance Thursday.

A motive has not been released in the shooting but family members described Alissa as someone possibly suffering from mental illness. A police affidavit chronicles the suspect, wearing body armor and wielding two firearms, killing victims at point-blank range. Alissa was shot in the leg and stripped down to his shorts before he was taken to the hospital.

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Suspect purchased gun 6 days before shooting

When Alissa surrendered to police, he was found with a green tactical vest and two firearms — an AR-15 style assault weapon and a semi-automatic handgun, authorities wrote in an arrest affidavit.

Boulder Police say in the document Alissa purchased one of the guns, a Ruger AR-556 pistol, which is designed to operate like a rifle, on March 16 — six days before the shooting.

The shooting came 10 days after a judge blocked a ban on assault rifles passed by the city of Boulder in 2018. That ordinance and another banning large-capacity magazines came after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

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A lawsuit challenging the bans was filed quickly, backed by the National Rifle Association. The judge struck down the ordinance under a Colorado law that blocks cities from making their own rules about guns.

Suspect started rampage outside store, asked for mom after attack

Police described a chaotic scene when they responded to the grocery store, with shots ringing out and officer Talley on the ground and not moving.

Witnesses told police Alissa started his attack outside. One caller told police Alissa started firing from inside a vehicle and another said the suspect had opened fire at someone sitting in a vehicle, an affidavit said.

Employees at the King Soopers told police they saw the suspect from a window, watching him shoot an older man in the parking lot. The suspect, they said, then walked over to the man, stood over him and fired several more rounds at point-blank range, an arrest affidavit said.

The employees said they hid as shots continued to ring out. Police say the suspect made his way through the store, opening fire on those inside. More calls poured in, describing the suspect to police and chronicling his movements in the store, the affidavit states.

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At one point in the response, authorities were heard over a loudspeaker saying the building was surrounded and “you need to surrender” and come out with hands up and unarmed.

The arrest warrant says Alissa walked backwards out of the store toward a SWAT team. He'd been shot in the leg and had removed all of his clothing besides a pair of shorts. Both he and his belongings were covered in blood, police said.

Authorities say Alissa "asked to speak to his mother" after he was taken by police, an arrest warrant states. Police write in the document there was no evidence of drug or alcohol use and Alissa told paramedics he wasn't using any medications.

Family says suspect was paranoid, was playing with gun the previous day

Alissa's family described him as "very anti-social" and possibly suffering from mental illness.

Ali Aliwi Alissa, the suspect’s 34-year-old brother, told The Daily Beast his brother was paranoid and would say people were after him when he was a high school student.

"We didn’t know what was going on in his head," Ali Aliwi Alissa said, telling the publication he believes his brother is mentally ill.

Ali Aliwi Alissa said several family members were detained and questioned by police. He said he believed mental illness was the reasoning behind the massacre.

"[It was] not at all a political statement, it’s mental illness," Ali Aliwi Alissa told The Daily Beast. "The guy used to get bullied a lot in high school, he was like an outgoing kid but after he went to high school and got bullied a lot, he started becoming anti-social."

Ali Aliwi Alissa told CNN his brother was bullied heavily in high school, that students made fun of his name and him being Muslim. That, he said, may have contributed to him becoming "anti-social."

The suspect's sister-in-law, whose name was redacted in court charging papers but who lives with the suspect, told police she knew one of the suspect's brothers had a handgun.

"She was also hesitant to mention it but stated that Alissa was seen playing with a gun she said looked like a 'machine gun,'" police wrote in an arrest affidavit.

Officers wrote the suspect told the woman there was a bullet stuck in the chamber and that his playing with the weapon left two people in the home "upset," the affidavit states.

A law enforcement official briefed on the shooting said the suspect’s family told investigators they believed Alissa was suffering some type of mental illness, including delusions.

Relatives described times when Alissa told them people were following or chasing him, which they said may have contributed to the violence, the official said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

Suspect was previously arrested after fight over bullying

Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa has faced charges in the past, stemming from a fight he got into with a classmate after he said he was bullied over his race.

When he was a high school senior in 2018, Alissa was found guilty of assaulting a fellow student in class after knocking him to the floor, then climbing on top of him and punching him in the head several times, according to a police affidavit.

Alissa “got up in classroom, walked over to the victim & ‘cold cocked’ him in the head,” the affidavit read. Alissa complained that the student had made fun of him and called him “racial names” weeks earlier, according to the affidavit.

He was sentenced to probation and community service.

The suspect was enrolled at Arvada West High School in Arvada, Colo. at the time of the incident, Cameron Bell, a spokeswoman for Jefferson County Schools, told USA TODAY. He was enrolled there from 2015 until he graduated in 2018.

Bell said Alissa was on the school's wrestling team from 2016 until 2018. But Bell couldn't answer specific questions about his studies or any potential issues at the school due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (known as FERPA), which protects students' educational records.

The suspect's apparent Facebook page, which was accessed by The New York Times and The Daily Beast before it was deleted, includes postings he wrote claiming he was born in Syria. Alissa writes on the page several times about Islam, prayer and struggles with Islamophobia.

"If these racist islamophobic people would stop hacking my phone and let me have a normal life I probably could," a post from July 2019 reads, according to The Daily Beast.

Federal officials declined comment on whether the shooting was an act of domestic terrorism, deferring to local authorities who said that it was too early in the investigation to make that determination or other possible motive.

The Boulder shooting investigation is being headed by local authorities, supported by state and federal officials. In terror cases, federal authorities typically lead those inquiries.

Contributing: Kevin Johnson, Trevor Hughes, John Bacon and Dennis Wagner; Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Boulder grocery store shooting: Suspect bought gun days before shooting