ARVADA, Colorado—The 21-year-old man accused in the King Soopers grocery store massacre is a martial-arts buff with a history of violence whose own brother describes him as “very anti-social.”
Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa allegedly stalked through the Boulder supermarket on Monday afternoon with a rifle and a pistol, firing shot after shot, and stripping off his combat vest and clothing until surrendering to a SWAT team.
He was charged with one count of first-degree murder for each of the 10 people killed: Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowika, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; Jody Waters, 65; and Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley, 51.
Investigators said that after the wounded, bloodied suspect was hauled out of the crime scene, he asked for his mother.
The motive for the nation’s second major mass shooting in a week remains unknown, but a family member said he believes the alleged shooter—a former high-school wrestler who was born in Syria but raised in Colorado—is mentally ill.
Ali Aliwi Alissa, 34, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview that his brother was paranoid, adding that in high school he would talk about “being chased, someone is behind him, someone is looking for him.”
“When he was having lunch with my sister in a restaurant, he said, ‘People are in the parking lot, they are looking for me.’ She went out, and there was no one. We didn’t know what was going on in his head,” he said.
He said he was sure the shooting was “not at all a political statement, it’s mental illness.”
“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,” the brother said.
Court records show Ahmad Alissa has at least one previous run-in with the law: an arrest after “cold cocking” a classmate at Arvada West High School in 2017.
According to court documents first obtained by KDVR, Alissa punched a classmate in the head without warning after he “had made fun of him and called him racial names weeks earlier.” The victim suffered bruising, swelling, and cuts to the head. Alissa pleaded guilty to an assault charge and was sentenced to two months of probation and 48 hours of community service in connection with that episode.
An Arvada Police spokesperson also confirmed Alissa had two interactions with local cops over the “past few years,” including cases involving allegations of simple assault and criminal mischief.
On a now-deleted Facebook page, Alissa described himself as “born in Syria 1999 came to the USA in 2002. I like wrestling and informational documentaries that’s me.” He also said he was “interested in “computer engineering/ computer science.... kickboxing.” Posts about mixed martial arts, especially jiu jitsu, dominated the page. Alissa sometimes posted about Islam, often about prayer or holidays.
He shared pictures of himself in his wrestling uniform from Arvada West High, as well as wearing medals from a fighting association.
Conrad, a former wrestling teammate of the suspect who spoke under the condition his last name be withheld, told The Daily Beast he was deeply surprised by the allegations, but that Alissa did have a temper.
“One thing I can tell you is he didn’t take losing very well,” he said. “I remember that in wrestling. He would throw his headgear, wouldn’t talk to the coaches when he lost. If I remember correctly, even cussed out one of the coaches one time.”
In one Facebook post, the suspect appeared to express fears that someone was targeting his phone for Islamophobic reasons.
“Yeah if these racist islamophobic people would stop hacking my phone and let me have a normal life I probably could,” he posted in July 2019.
He made similar allegations months earlier, accusing his former high school of hacking his phone. He asked Facebook followers for information about laws against phone hacking, and said he suspected someone was starting rumors about him, which “set off” the alleged hacking.
On Facebook, his politics appeared mixed throughout several camps. He shared an article rebuking Donald Trump’s stance on immigration, but also posted about his own opposition to gay marriage and abortion.
A day after the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, Alissa had shared a Facebook post from another user that read, “The Muslims at the #christchurch mosque were not the victims of a single shooter. They were the victims of the entire Islamophobia industry that vilified them.”
An arrest affidavit released Tuesday says Alissa purchased a Ruger AR-556 semiautomatic on March 16. A family member told police that Alissa had been playing with a “machine gun” just two days before the shooting and “had been talking about having a bullet stuck in the gun.”
On Monday, the Boulder Police Department was bombarded with “multiple” calls about Alissa, including one that he was armed with a “black AR-15” and “might have body armor on,” the affidavit says.
King Soopers employees told police the man shot “an elderly man in the parking lot” before walking up to him and shooting him several more times. Alissa had on a green tactical vest, a rifle, a semi-automatic handgun, and a pair of jeans, the affidavit says.
Sarah Moonshadow, a 42-year-old south Boulder resident, was buying strawberries with her 21-year-old son when the gunfire erupted. “He shot right at us. I didn’t look. I just ran,” she told The Daily Beast on Monday.
Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley was first on the scene, and Alissa allegedly shot him in the head. When SWAT teams arrived and entered the store, the suspect walked backward toward them to be taken into custody. He had “removed all of his clothing and was dressed only in shorts” and “had blood on his right thigh.”
Alissa spent the night in the hospital and was booked into the Boulder County Jail by Tuesday afternoon.
His brother, Ali Aliwi Alissa, said he traveled to another King Sooper’s location after work on Monday to look for a third sibling who had run an errand and couldn’t be reached. He said he found that relative in police custody, and that he and more family members were detained as well.
He said that police spent the night searching every corner of the home, which sits on the edge of a quiet cul-de-sac lined with two-story homes and a mix of Aspens, evergreens, basketball hoops, and bird feeders. Multiple generations of the family reside at the Arvada house, its roof covered with solar panels, a flagstone path leading to the backyard.
If the neighbors hadn’t seen the news online, they learned something was wrong around 9:30 p.m. Monday when an armada of vehicles arrived and stormed the block. “It looked like the house was surrounded by Navy SEALs,” said a 39-year-old pilot and neighbor, who was in bed next door when law enforcement arrived and declined to give his name.
Matt Benz, a 37-year-old investment manager who lives five doors down, woke up to a loudspeaker asking everyone in the Alissa house to come to the front door. “It’s a quiet neighborhood, full of young families, that’s why we moved here,” he told The Daily Beast, detailing his shock at the news.
On Tuesday morning, a woman who identified herself as an older sister answered the door of the Alissa family home. She said she was floored, and the family never suspected their brother capable of committing this act of violence. “We’re shocked. He is nice, a quiet brother,” the 30-year-old told The Daily Beast, declining to give her name.
Asked what message the family had for the public, brother Ali Aliwi Alissa said: “I feel so sorry for the people that were shot by Ahmad. This was something I would have never expected Ahmad to do. What he did... why, I don’t know.”
The events in Boulder unfolded just days after a gunman shot up three massage parlors in the metro Atlanta area, killing eight people, six of them Asian women.
Colorado has also been the scene of some of the nation’s worst mass shootings after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre that left 13 people dead. In 2012, an attack at an Aurora movie theater left 12 dead.
“I wish I could stand here and promise that pain will heal quickly," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said at a Tuesday press conference. “But it won’t.... At times like this, it’s hard to see the light that shines through the darkness.”
“Not only did we lose ten lives, this is real horror and terror,” he added.
—with reporting by Noor Ibrahim