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Boulder Shooting: Police Identify Suspected Gunman, Say He's Facing 10 Murder Charges

Health care workers walk out of a King Soopers grocery store after a gunman opened fire Monday in Boulder, Colo.
Chet Strange
Getty Images
Health care workers walk out of a King Soopers grocery store after a gunman opened fire Monday in Boulder, Colo.

Updated March 23, 2021 at 4:07 PM ET

Police in Boulder, Colo., have identified the suspect in Monday's shooting rampage at a grocery store as Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21. Ten people died in the shooting, including a Boulder police officer who had arrived to help those inside the store. The victims range in age from 20 to 65.

Alissa has been charged with 10 counts of murder in the first degree, Boulder police said.

Victims identified, and families notified

"Our hearts go out to all the victims of this senseless act of violence," said Boulder police Chief Maris Herold.

All of the victims have now been identified, and their families have been notified, Herold said at a news conference Tuesday morning. She then read out the victims' names:

Denny Stong, 20, whom police initially identified as Denny Strong;
Nevin 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.

"Not only did we lose 10 lives, but this is a real horror and terror for all of us," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said.

The suspect

The suspect is from Arvada, a small city between Denver and Boulder. He was wounded during the shooting and was expected to be released from the hospital and sent to the county jail sometime Tuesday, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said.

Colorado shooting suspect Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa
/ Boulder Police Department via AP
Boulder Police Department via AP
Colorado shooting suspect Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa

Herold said the suspect's injury was a "through-and-through" wound to his leg.

Ben Markus of Colorado Public Radio reported that Alissa has a police record, having been arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge in 2018. He pleaded guilty and paid a fine to resolve that case, according to court records.

An "extensive investigation" is now under way into Alissa's life, Dougherty said. He added that the suspect has "lived most of his life in the United States," but he did not elaborate on the suspect's history.

The arrest warrant affidavit for Alissa says he purchased a gun less than a week before Monday's shooting, citing official databases that show the suspect bought a Ruger AR-556 on March 16.

President Biden responds to attack

The U.S. flag was lowered to half-staff atop the White House on Tuesday in honor of the victims.

President Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden were "devastated" to learn of the shooting. Speaking from the White House, Biden also said it's time for Congress to tighten U.S. gun laws.

Biden acknowledged that the inquiry is still in its early phases, but he added, "I don't need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act."

Lawmakers' priorities, Biden said, should be once again to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and close legal loopholes.

The scene at the grocery store

The arrest affidavit provides new details about what took place inside the store, drawing from 911 emergency calls and interviews with people who were present when mayhem erupted at the King Soopers grocery store on Table Mesa Drive.

Store employees told Detective Joanna Compton that they saw the suspect shoot an older man in the parking lot.

"The suspect then walked up to the elderly man, stood over him and shot him multiple additional times," the affidavit said. The employees said the gunman was a "fat" man wearing a tactical vest.

"They hid upstairs in the back room of the store and continued to hear shots fired inside the store," the document said.

The weapon used in the shooting is legally classified as a "pistol" in the U.S., but many people would likely consider it to be a rifle — and the affidavit repeatedly refers to it as one. The gun has the same lower receiver, the shell-like piece that houses the trigger, as AR-15 rifles that have been used in many other mass shootings in the United States.

"[Boulder police] Officer Richard Steidel responded to the scene and assisted with a search for the suspect," the affidavit said. "While searching, he observed that Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley was down, and appeared to be deceased. Officer Steidel observed the suspect with an assault rifle of unknown make and brand, who was shooting toward him."

Alissa surrendered to police after he was shot in the leg. An officer said the suspect took off most of his clothes and walked backward toward a SWAT team at the store.

"The suspect did not answer questions, though he asked to speak to his mother," the affidavit said.

As the scene was being cleared, authorities worked to account for people and locate victims. While most of the victims were inside the store, police found a dead person in the parking lot, next to a Mercedes sedan that Alissa had apparently driven to the grocery store.

"A green rifle case was observed in the front passenger compartment of the Mercedes," the affidavit said, noting that the car seemed to be registered to Alissa's brother.

Attack has personal ties for governor, police chief

Polis, who is from Boulder, noted that he has shopped at the same store where the violence erupted Monday. Herold later added that she lives about three blocks from the store.

"I feel numb," she said, describing the pain of talking with people from the community about the deaths.

"You're worried about your neighbors, you're worried about your partner, you're worried about everything when you get that call," Herold said, describing her personal reaction to the shooting. "I feel numb and it's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking to talk to victims, their families. And it's tragic."

Speaking about the slain officer, Herold said that just weeks ago, she had Talley and his family in her office so she could present an award. The commendation, she explained, was for one of his sons who had saved another boy's life by performing CPR.

"He loved this community," the chief said of Talley, saying that he represented everything her police department needs.

"Flags had barely been raised" back from half-staff following last week's shooting spree in Atlanta-area massage spas when the violence broke out in Boulder, Polis said.

No motive is known yet

The FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other federal agencies are helping to investigate, mainly by processing evidence at the crime scene and conducting interviews with witnesses, said Michael H. Schneider, FBI special agent in charge. He added that the effort is ongoing to determine what could have motivated the attack.

As a teenager in Arvada, Alissa was on his high school's wrestling team. Tyson Crosby, the father of a boy who competed against Alissa, remembered him as being nice but also "a little frustrated with life."

Despite Alissa having some "anger management issues," Crosby told Colorado Public Radio, "I would have never expected to hear what I heard [about the shooting], that came as a complete shock."

The first reports of shots fired at the King Soopers grocery store reached the Boulder Police Department around 2:30 p.m. local time Monday, Herold said that evening. She provided more details on Tuesday, saying that with a "barrage" of calls coming in, officers were dispatched around 2:40 p.m. and arrived within minutes.

The officers "immediately entered the store and engaged the suspect," the police department said in a news release. "There was an exchange of gunfire during which the suspect was shot. No other officers were injured. The suspect was then taken into custody at 3:28 p.m." and taken to a hospital, the agency said.

In the wake of the shooting, other state and local agencies offered to handle service calls for the Boulder police, Herold said. But she added that while her department appreciated the gesture, it declined the offers.

"None of my officers wanted to do that," Herold said. "So we partnered them up and they want to be out with the community."

When the chief was asked what she's telling her officers now, Herold said, "I tell them that I'm sorry, we're going to get through this. Don't lose your compassion, and we'll get through this. And we'll come out of it stronger."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.