Some of those who knew the man now accused of killing 10 in a Boulder King Soopers remembered him as troubled, but not someone they would have suspected to act on his aggression in such a horrifying way.
Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, had been a student at Arvada West high school where he wrestled in what has historically been one of the state’s premier programs.
“He was a nice kid,” said Tyson Crosby, whose son wrestled against Alissa at Arvada West. Alissa was in the 152 pound weight class. “He did have some periods of, a little bit of anger management issues I would say. He would get frustrated and he would become very explosive.”
Jefferson County schools verified that Alissa was enrolled at Arvada West from March 2015 to May 2018. And he was on the wrestling team in 2016-17 season and 2017-18 season. The team last won the state championship in 2015.
“So even back then I knew that he was struggling with some anger,” said Crosby. It wasn’t exactly clear what the root cause of that anger was, but, “he definitely was a little frustrated with life, I think in general. I would have never expected to hear what I heard [about the shooting], that came as a complete shock.”
His public criminal history is sparse, and would not have been enough to prohibit him from owning a firearm. Boulder Police say he was armed with a “patrol rifle” as he opened fire in the parking lot, then inside the King Soopers on Table Mesa Drive at 2:40 p.m. Monday.
The affidavit in support of an arrest affidavit for Alissa said he had purchased an AR-556 "pistol" on March 16, six days before the shooting and the same day another man went on a shooting rampage at Georgia massage businesses. The Ruger website shows that as an assault-type rifle that resembles an AR-15.
Police said he was carrying a handgun and a "possible AR-15" rifle at the King Soopers. His sister-in-law told authorities Monday night that she had seen Alissa with a "machine gun" type rifle just in the past couple of days. Someone who is not identified in the affidavit became annoyed with Alissa for playing with the rifle in the house and took it away. It is not clear if that is the rifle police said was used at the King Soopers.
He was wounded in a gunfight with Boulder officers. Officer Eric Talley was killed. Nine other shoppers and employees were also killed in the mass shooting.
Denver Public Schools sent an email to families from South High School Tuesday night noting that Alissa had also attended that school. But it was at Arvada West where the first public signs of trouble appeared.
Colorado Bureau of Investigation records show Alissa was previously arrested on Nov. 27, 2017 for misdemeanor 3rd degree assault, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, inflicting bodily injury on another person.
The incident happened at Arvada West.
According to the officer notes in the court records, Alissa “got up in classroom, walked over to victim & ‘cold cocked’ him in the head.” The victim fell to the floor and Alissa got on top of him and “punched him in the head several more times.” Witnesses couldn’t provide a reason for the altercation according to the officer. The victim had “bruising, swelling & cuts to head.”
Alissa told the officer that the victim “had made fun of him & called him racial names earlier.”
Arvada Police released additional details of the case Wednesday. A teacher who witnessed the attack and helped pull Alissa off the other boy told Arvada police it was unprovoked and that Alissa "had a look of pure anger" on his face as he pummeled his classmate.
In an interview with Arvada Police, Alissa showed signs of paranoia.
"He said that at the end of class he saw Alex talking with some kids, and Alex was laughing," according to the police report. "Ahmad said he felt like Alex was laughing at him and that made him mad. I asked if Alex had said anything to him that day, or was specifically looking or pointing at him, and Ahmad told me no. He said that he just always feels that when Alex is laughing that it is because Alex was making fun of him."
He eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to one year of probation, including anger management classes, and 48 hours of community service.
Keaton Hyatt said he did weight training in high school with Alissa. He graduated in 2018.
"He looks like a completely different person from what happened on Monday and back in high school, he was a completely different person," Hyatt said. "He had gained probably 80 pounds. Since high school, he completely let himself go and we heard that he had stopped talking to people like stopped talking to his friends and stuff."
Between high school and Monday at King Soopers, the accused gunman's appearance changed considerably. Gone was the 152-pound wrestler who appears fit and athletic in photos, and listed himself as 140 pounds at the time of his high school arrest. At the time of his arrest Monday, authorities listed him as 5-6 and 200 pounds.
But Hyatt also defended Alissa from the 2017 incident. He was not a witness to it, but he said Alissa was regularly the subject of ethnic and racial taunting in the school.
"It was because he was defending himself because the guy was telling him, 'Go back to Syria' and, calling him all these racial slurs," Hyatt said. Other students told Arvada Police that the victim had not said anything to Alissa before the attack.
Neighbors of the Alissa family in an Arvada subdivision were surprised to learn of their neighbor's connection to the shooting.
“The whole family is pretty much quiet,” said Scott Manning, who lives a few doors down from the Alissa household. Manning described a neighborhood where people mostly kept to themselves, and interactions with the family were sporadic but friendly. “Nothing that really red flagged or anything.”
On Wednesday, patrons of one of the family's Middle Eastern-themed restaurants left flowers at the door.
"Peace and healing to your family at this terrible time," the note read. It was signed "a customer who cares."
Alissa sustained a “through-and-through” gunshot wound to his right leg and was first treated at a local hospital. He was booked into the Boulder County Jail at 10:49 a.m. Tuesday on multiple counts of first-degree murder after deliberation. He is scheduled to make his first appearance before a judge at 8:15 a.m. Thursday.
Editors Note: CPR News includes the name of an alleged shooter only when it is critical to the story.
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