After Colorado grocery store massacre, a suspect in custody but few answers

Damage to King Soopers in Boulder, Colorado
The morning after the mass shooting there is damage to the King Soopers grocery store, in Boulder, Colorado, on March 23.
REUTERS/Alyson McClaran

By Alyson McClaran and Keith Coffman

Police on Tuesday identified the 21-year-old suspect accused of killing 10 people – including a policeman – in a hail of bullets at a Colorado supermarket, marking the United States’ second mass shooting in a week and adding to the state’s tragic history of deadly massacres.

The suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa of Arvada, Colorado, stormed the King Soopers outlet in Boulder armed with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle and a handgun and wearing a tactical vest, all of which were recovered after Monday’s shooting, according to an arrest affidavit filed by police.

The affidavit also said law enforcement databases show Alissa purchased a Ruger AR-556 pistol, a weapon that resembles a semi-automatic rifle and has a 30-round capacity, on March 16, six days before the shooting.

Alissa was released from a hospital, where he was treated for a leg wound suffered in an exchange of gunfire with responding police, and transported to county jail on Tuesday afternoon to await an initial court appearance on murder and other charges. His criminal history shows a single charge for third-degree assault in 2018, according to the affidavit.

Authorities said they were confident he acted alone, though they did not offer any details on what might have motivated him to open fire at the store, about 28 miles northwest of Denver.

Conrad Wright leaves flowers and takes a moment at the site of a mass shooting at King Soopers grocery store.REUTERS/Alyson McClaran

“It would be premature for us to draw any conclusions at this time,” Michael Schneider, the agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Denver, said at a news briefing.

The 10 victims range in age from 20 to 65 and include Eric Talley, an 11-year veteran of the Boulder police force. Talley, 51, was the father of seven children and had recently been looking for a less dangerous job, according to a statement released by his father.

Police identified the nine other victims as Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jody Waters, 65.

Monday’s attack, which began around 2:40 p.m., drew hundreds of police officers to the scene and sent terrified shoppers and employees fleeing for safety amid the sound of gunfire.

Colorado has been the site of some of the most shocking episodes of gun violence in U.S. history, including the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora and the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School near Littleton.

The latest bloodshed came only six days after a gunman went on a killing spree on March 16 in the Atlanta area, fatally shooting eight people at three day spas before he was arrested.

“My heart aches today,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis said on Tuesday. “Flags had barely been raised back to full-mast after the tragic shooting in Atlanta that claimed eight lives, and now a tragedy here close to home at a grocery store that could be any of our neighborhood grocery stores.”

The two mass shootings are likely to intensify pressure on Democratic President Joe Biden to fulfill his campaign pledge to enact tougher gun limits. But legislation to ban assault-style weapons and tighten background checks have stalled amid Republican opposition in Congress.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders in Congress, both said on Tuesday that the violence again underscored the need for stricter gun laws.

Joan Lutz, places a note that says, “Thank you police officers, our hearts are grieving,” at a memorial for Officer Eric Talley, who was killed during a mass shooting in King Soopers grocery store, at Boulder Police Department, in Boulder, Colorado.REUTERS/Alyson McClaran


Details about Alissa were slowly emerging on Tuesday. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Syria, according to two U.S. law enforcement officials briefed on the matter.

Ali Aliwi Alissa, the alleged shooter’s 34-year-old brother, told The Daily Beast that his sibling was antisocial and paranoid.

Alissa graduated from Arvada West High School in May 2018, according to Cameron Bell, a spokeswoman for the school district. Records show he was on the wrestling team during two seasons ending in 2018, she said.

An archived Facebook page that appeared to belong to Ahmad Alissa said he was interested in computer science and kickboxing. The page, which uses the name Ahmad Al Issa, features a picture of a young man in a wrestling match who resembles the suspect’s mug shot.

The page, which was taken down soon after Alissa’s name was disclosed, also says he studied computer engineering at Metropolitan State University of Denver and was in the Class of 2022.

A university spokesman said Alissa has never been a student at the school, however.

Witnesses in Colorado described a chaotic and frightening scene inside the store during Monday’s attack.

Ryan Borowski, 37, went in looking for something to satisfy a sugar craving. He had picked out a 12-pack of soda and a bag of chips when he heard shots ring out, sending him scurrying for the store’s back exit.

“It was pretty terrifying,” he said. “Fastest fire drill I’ve ever been in.”