Donate to RNS

Colorado shooting suspect had worried about being targeted for his Muslim faith, acquaintances say

As of Tuesday afternoon, investigators had not established a motive, but authorities believed Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa was the only shooter, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said.

Police work on the scene outside of a King Soopers grocery store where a shooting took place March 22, 2021, in Boulder, Colorado. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(RNS) — Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, the 21-year-old man suspected of shooting inside a crowded Colorado supermarket and killing 10 people, has been described as a “very anti-social” man who appeared paranoid “about perceived slights against him,” according to news reports.

The Boulder Police Department on Tuesday (March 23) released the names of the victims: Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Eric Talley, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jody Waters, 65.

As of Tuesday afternoon, investigators had not established a motive, but authorities believed Alissa, who was born in Syria, was the only shooter, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said. 

As further details of the suspect, who is from the Denver suburb of Arvada, began to emerge, many expressed concern and fear over ramped-up Islamophobia.


RELATED: Islamophobia on the rise, according to United Nations report


Phrases and words like “He’s Muslim,” “Islamic” and “Middle Eastern” were trending Tuesday on Twitter. With Ramadan just a few weeks away, some also worried about potential hate crimes as Muslims are more likely to gather in congregational settings. 

Interviews with Alissa’s siblings and former classmates, and previous statements Alissa appeared to make on Facebook, paint a man who had violent confrontations with his wrestling teammates and who worried about being targeted due to his Muslim faith. His family also said he suffered from mental health issues.

“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,” Dayton Marvel, described as a former classmate, told The Denver Post. “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.”

The Denver Post highlighted posts from a Facebook page that apparently belonged to Alissa. In one post, the user of that page in 2019 posted “he believed his former high school was hacking his cell phone,” according to The Denver Post.

A commenter asked why the school would do that and he replied: “I believe part racism for sure … I believe someone spread rumors about me which are false and maybe that set it off,” the newspaper reported.

The Daily Beast highlighted Facebook posts it linked to Alissa where he “appeared to express fears that someone was targeting his phone for Islamophobic reasons.”

“Yeah if these racist islamophobic people would stop hacking my phone and let me have a normal life I probably could,” The Daily Beast said he posted in July 2019.

On his Facebook profile, which The Daily Beast said has been removed, he shared an article that criticized former President Donald Trump’s stance on immigration. He also posted against gay marriage and abortion, according to The Daily Beast.

A day after the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, Alissa shared a Facebook post from another user that read, “The Muslims at the #christchurch mosque were not the victims of a single shooter. They were the victims of the entire Islamophobia industry that vilified them,” according to The Daily Beast.

The Daily Beast interviewed the suspect’s brother, Ali Aliwi Alissa, who said: “(It was) not at all a political statement, it’s mental illness.”

“The guy used to get bullied a lot in high school, he was like an outgoing kid but after he went to high school and got bullied a lot, he started becoming anti-social,” he told The Daily Beast.

In high school, his brother said, he would describe “being chased, someone is behind him, someone is looking for him,” according to The Daily Beast.

Religion News Service reporter Joseph Hammond and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.