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Motive still unclear in Colorado mass shooting as suspect faces murder charges

Boulder, Colorado

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.

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Boulder residents Jessica Adams and her daughter Ruby Lopez bring flowers to the site of a shooting in Boulder, Colorado, US, on 22nd March, 2021. PICTURE: Reuters/Jim Urquhart

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 16th March, six days before the shooting.

His sister-in-law told police on Monday evening that Alissa had been “playing with” a firearm she described as resembling a “machine gun” two days before the attack, upsetting family members, the affidavit said.

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.

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, which is about 45 kilometres north-west of Denver. 

“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 who was among the first officers on the scene. 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 2:40pm, sent terrified shoppers and employees fleeing for safety amid the sound of gunfire.

Witnesses told police the shooter killed a man in his vehicle outside the store before gunning down a man in the parking lot, standing over him and firing multiple times, and then entering the store to continue the rampage.

When apprehended, Alissa did not answer questions but asked to speak with his mother, according to the affidavit.

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Law enforcement officers investigate the site of a shooting at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, US, on 22nd March, 2021. PICTURE: Reuters/Jim Urquhart

Colorado has been the site of some of the most shocking episodes of gun violence in US history, including the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theatre 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 16th March in the Atlanta area, fatally shooting eight people at three day spas before he was arrested.

“My heart aches today, and I think all of ours does, as Coloradans, as Americans, for this senseless tragedy and loss of life,” Governor Jared Polis said.

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.

“I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone another hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future,” Biden said at the White House on Tuesday. “This is not and should not be a partisan issue.”

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

Biden also ordered US flags to fly at half-staff in honour of the victims; they had just been raised at sunset on Monday after having been lowered following the Atlanta killings. 

Details about Alissa were slowly emerging on Tuesday. He is a naturalised US citizen from Syria, according to two US 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 has had at least two previous run-ins with the law, according to an Arvada Police Department spokesman, who said there were criminal reports for a third-degree assault in 2017 and for criminal mischief in 2018. The details of those incidents were not immediately available, and it was not clear whether Alissa had ever been convicted of an offense.

He 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 for two seasons, she said.

An archived Facebook page that appeared to belong to 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.

Witnesses 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.”



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