The 21-year-old Arvada man arrested in Monday’s mass shooting at a Boulder King Sooper’s was violent, short-tempered and paranoid during high school, his former classmates said Tuesday.
Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa is suspected of killing 10 people at the grocery store Monday when he walked in around 2:30 p.m. and began shooting, according to law enforcement. He was taken into custody about an hour later with a gunshot wound in his leg.
Alissa was hospitalized for treatment and is expected to be transported to the Boulder County Jail Tuesday to face 10 counts of first-degree murder.
He attended Arvada West High School from 2015 until he graduated in 2018, Jeffco Public Schools spokeswoman Cameron Bell confirmed Tuesday. He was on the wrestling team his junior and senior years.
“He was kind of scary to be around,” said Dayton Marvel, a teammate on the wrestling team. Alissa once had an outburst and threatened to kill people during an intra-team match, Marvel said.
“His senior year, during the wrestle-offs to see who makes varsity, he actually lost his match and quit the team and yelled out in the wrestling room that he was, like, going to kill everybody,” Marvel said. “Nobody believed him. We were just all kind of freaked out by it, but nobody did anything about it.”
He said he did not like spending time with Alissa, and Alissa was not close with anyone on the wrestling team. Another teammate, Angel Hernandez, said Alissa got into a fight in the parking lot after the match.
“(The other wrestler) was just teasing him and goes, ‘Maybe if you were a better wrestler, you would have won.’ (Alissa) just lost it. He started punching him,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said Alissa frequently appeared to be paranoid about perceived slights against him, and Marvel said Alissa was often concerned about being targeted because of his Muslim faith.
“He would talk about him being Muslim and how if anybody tried anything, he would file a hate crime and say they were making it up,” Marvel said. “It was a crazy deal. I just know he was a pretty cool kid until something made him mad, and then whatever made him mad, he went over the edge — way too far.”
“He was always talking about (how) people were looking at him and there was no one ever where he was pointing people out,” Hernandez said. “We always thought he was messing around with us or something.”
In 2017, Alissa, then 18, attacked a classmate at Arvada West High School, according to an affidavit filed in the case. He punched the classmate in the head without warning, and when the boy fell to the ground, Alissa continued to punch him. The classmate suffered bruises and cuts to his head, according to the affidavit.
Witnesses told police they didn’t see or hear any reason for Alissa to attack the classmate. Alissa told officers that the classmate “had made fun of him and called him racial names weeks earlier,” according to the affidavit.
He was convicted of misdemeanor assault in 2018 and was sentenced to probation and 48 hours of community service, according to court records.
Despite his short temper, Hernandez said Alissa could also be friendly and “joyful.”
“The sad thing about it is that if you really were to get to know him, he was a good guy,” Hernandez said. “Whenever you went up to him, he was always so joyful and so nice. But you could tell there was a dark side in him. If he did get ticked off about something, within a split second, it was like if something takes over, like a demon. He’d just unleash all his anger.”
Another former classmate, Keaton Hyatt, said he took a weightlifting class with Alissa and never knew him to be violent. Hyatt liked Alissa’s quick wit and sharp comebacks during locker room banter.
“He was super cool and super funny,” Hyatt said. “… It was never violent jokes about people or America or anything.”
Arvada Police Detective Dave Snelling confirmed Tuesday the local department had at least two interactions with Alissa over the past several years, including a case of criminal mischief. The details of that case were not immediately available.
Snelling would not say whether local police had received any warnings or complaints about Alissa recently, however, and instead deferred the question to the FBI.
Alissa lived with his family in an Arvada subdivision on West 65th Place, a quiet neighborhood of single-family homes. Neighbors said the household appeared to be multi-generational with a large number of family members living there.
The home is owned by Ali Aliwi Alissa, who also owns a nearby restaurant. The eatery, in a strip mall that shares space with a coffee shop, UPS store, battery store and other restaurants, was closed Tuesday.
Jamie Poeling moved her business, Dream Dinners, a few doors down from the restaurant just over a year ago and said she ate there infrequently. Employees there gave Poeling a discount and she returned the favor.
Poeling said she doesn’t know everyone in the family by name, but that she never had a negative experience at the restaurant. Employees would go out of their way to offer food to a homeless woman living behind the restaurant, she said.
“I’ve been in the shop while they’ve given her food and they’re very kind,” Poeling said.
It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether any of Alissa’s family knew of his plan to attack King Soopers.
A relative told investigators Monday night that she’d seen Alissa “playing” with a gun that looked like a “machine gun” about two days prior, according to the affidavit.
“Alissa had been talking about having a bullet stuck in the gun and was playing with the gun,” the affidavit said. Others in the home became upset that he had the gun inside and took it from him, the relative told police, although she believed it had later been returned to him.
Alissa purchased a Ruger AR-556 pistol six days before the attack, according to a police affidavit released Tuesday. Witnesses to the shooting described the gunman as firing a “patrol rifle,” Boulder police have said.
On a Facebook page that appeared to belong to Alissa and has since been removed, the user posted in 2019 that he believed his former high school was hacking his cell phone. In a comment to someone who asked why the school would do that, he blamed racism.
“I believe part racism for sure,” he replied. “I believe someone spread rumors about me which are false and maybe that set it off.”
In other posts, the user expressed anti-LGBTQ sentiments and warned about perils he perceived from too much government control.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.