King Soopers Shooting Suspect Facing Security Concerns, DA Says

Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty and Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold at the March 26 press conference.
Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty and Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold at the March 26 press conference. City of Boulder
During a March 26 press conference about the shooting at a King Soopers that left ten people dead, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty cited reports of security concerns that have arisen around suspect Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, who is currently being held without bail.

Dougherty didn't go into detail about specific threats that may have been made against the alleged shooter or what authorities in Boulder are doing to make sure he stays safe prior to going to trial. But he noted that such issues are "not unusual" in attacks that have resulted in mass casualties.

One example: Convicted Aurora theater shooter James Holmes was moved from a Colorado prison to an out-of-state facility following a 2015 attack on him by Mark "Slim" Daniels, a fellow inmate. Daniels subsequently apologized in a letter to writer Alan Prendergast for being unable to send Holmes to "Satan's lake of fire."

The press conference began with Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold talking about the importance of "giving an overview of the last five days, so the community is walking step by step through the investigation." She said 26 law enforcement agencies "have been working around the clock to determine a timeline" of events that began at around 2:30 p.m. on Monday, March 22; thus far, 167 law enforcement officials at the federal, state and local levels have worked a total of more than 3,000 hours on the investigation. (At this writing, 223 tips have been received, 156 interviews have been completed and approximately twenty digital media devices have been collected.) Herold thanked her peers for their assistance, with a special shout-out for teams of victims' assistants, who have been made available to officers, survivors and anyone traumatized by what happened. She also expressed appreciation for the outpouring of support from the community at large.

In addition, Herold confirmed that a member of the Boulder Police Department who fired a shot at the gunman has been placed on administrative leave while outside agencies conduct an investigation to determine whether his actions were justified — standard procedure in any incident when an officer fires a weapon in the line of duty.

Authorities have determined that the semi-automatic Ruger AR-556 pistol that the suspect is believed to have used in the assault was legally purchased from a gun store in Arvada, his place of residence. He also had a 9mm handgun in his possession, but it's not believed to have been used on March 22. Inquiries are ongoing in regard to both weapons; Dougherty also alluded to other firearms connected to the suspect, but didn't offer any specifics about numbers, brands or models.

During Dougherty's remarks, he made it clear that the prosecution process is expected to take at least a year, and could stretch on for an even longer period of time. He stressed that the suspect is innocent until proven guilty — an emphasis he said he will make whenever he's sharing information with the public, since he doesn't want to provide any rationale for a judge to determine that the gunman is unable to receive a fair trial in Boulder County and agree to move the proceedings elsewhere in the state.

Right now, Alissa is facing ten charges of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. But Dougherty said that additional charges will be forthcoming after the crime scene is fully processed and all potential witnesses are quizzed.

The first question during the Q&A session involved the possibility that the attack was an example of terrorism; the suspect has lived the majority of his life in the United States but was born in Syria. "The FBI, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and all the law enforcement agencies are doing a deep dive into the offender's background, as well as the background of everyone involved," Dougherty said, and "any connection we find will be made available to the public once we determine if it's accurate or not." At Alissa's first court appearance yesterday, March 25, his public defender suggested that he suffers from mental illness.

Dougherty added that "the victims' families and the community are desperate to learn the motive. We want to know the motive. That's going to be our focus going forward. Whether or not we determine it, that's to be seen."

Herold made a similar reference when asked if there's a theory why the suspect chose to attack a grocery store a considerable distance from Arvada. "It will be something haunting for all of us until we can figure this out," she acknowledged. "As someone said, sometimes we don't figure that out. But I'm hoping we will."

As for the number of shots fired in the incident, Dougherty said investigators have "preliminary ideas" about a total, but that information won't be divulged until officers complete their investigative work. Herold called the scene the most complex she's worked in her career owing simply to its size — an enormous grocery store and an equally large parking lot.

Alissa suffered a gunshot wound to his leg, and while Dougherty wasn't ready to say that a bullet fired by a police officer caused the injury, he noted that "but for the quick actions of law enforcement, and the quick thinking of a lot of people in the supermarket, this would have been much, much worse."

Click to read the Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa complaint and charging documents.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts