Police Are Still Searching For A Motive In The Boulder King Soopers Shooting

Mark M Lorenz for CPR News
Maggie Prowell, 31, comforts her younger sister, Betsy 27, of Boulder, at Fairview High School, Thursday March, 25, 2021. The vigil was hosted by The Colorado chapter of Moms Demand Action honoring the victims of Monday’s mass shooting at King Soopers. Photo/Mark M Lorenz

More than 150 federal and local law enforcement officers have worked since Monday to investigate the rampage at a King Soopers that killed 10 people.

They still don’t understand a key component: motive.

“I think it’s clear the victim’s families are desperate to know a motive. We want to know a motive,” said Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty. “And that’s going to be the focus of all our efforts going forward.”

In a briefing on Friday, Boulder’s Police Chief Maris Herold described the active crime scene at the grocery store as “among the most complex I’ve ever worked personally” and thanked federal law enforcement officers for helping with the effort. 

The victims in the mass shooting earlier this week were grocery workers, shoppers and a responding Boulder Police Officer, Eric Talley, 51. In addition to Talley, the victims are 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 Jodi Waters, 65. 

The suspect, 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, has been formally charged with 11 felonies and remains in custody without bond. He was moved out of the Boulder County Jail to another undisclosed location because of security concerns. 

Alissa lived in Arvada and purchased the weapon he used in the attack, a semiautomatic Ruger AR-556 pistol, on March 16 at an Arvada gun store after passing the required background check. He also had a 9 mm handgun with him during the shooting, but officials said on Friday they do not believe he ever fired it.

Alissa was shot by an officer in the right thigh in a firefight in the store. Officials didn’t say the name of the officer who exchanged gunfire, but Herold said that, following standard procedure, the officer is on leave as they investigate whether the use of force was appropriate.

Dougherty said when officers from both Boulder Police and University of Colorado Police charged into the grocery store, they faced “a very significant amount” gunfire from the shooter who, at first, they couldn’t locate.

“There was significant danger to civilians who were still in the supermarket and significant danger to the community,” Dougherty said on Friday. “That danger ended because of the response of law enforcement.”

He declined to elaborate how many rounds were fired, but said he will release that information soon. Dougherty said that he expects to file additional charges of attempted murder in the coming weeks.

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office remain in an “assist” mode in the investigation and have an operations center set up in Boulder, a FBI spokeswoman said.

Although Alissa was born in Syria, it remains unknown whether his background might have played any role in his motivation. Asked about it on Friday, Dougherty said law enforcement is still probing every aspect of Alissa’s life.

“The FBI, CBI and all the law enforcement agencies involved are doing a deep dive into the offender’s background … at this point we don’t have any particular information to share,” he said.

The district attorney believes the massacre could have been much worse.

“It was a grocery store in the middle of the day, from your own experience, we’ve all been to the supermarket, that’s how many people were there,” Dougherty said. “But for the actions of law enforcement … this would have been much, much worse in terms of the numbers of victims.” 

Dougherty noted he will be careful not to release too many details ahead of Alissa’s court dates because he believes Alissa has the constitutional right to a fair trial. 

Dougherty also noted he wanted to make sure the trial takes place in Boulder County. 

“If we share too much about the facts, we’ll see a motion by the defense to move this,” he said. 

Alissa’s next court date will be in 60 and 90 days, as the investigation continues. In his first advisement on Thursday, his public defender Kathryn Herold said his team needs time to evaluate his mental health.

Editor’s Note: CPR News includes the name of an alleged shooter only when it is critical to the story.