The alleged gunman in the Boulder, Colorado, massacre took notice of mass shootings around the world. He wrote on Facebook about the deadly ISIS attack on a nightclub in Paris and the white supremacist’s massacre at two mosques in New Zealand.
Then on Monday, he became a suspect in one himself.
Police have identified 21-year-old Ahmad Al-Issa as the man who allegedly walked into a King Soopers grocery store around 2:30 Monday and opened fire, killing 10 people, including a member of the Boulder police department who was responding to the incident.
Now investigators are tasked with figuring out what motivated the alleged gunman to purchase an AR-15-style rifle last week and carry out the horrific violence six days later.
The suspected gunman was taken into custody around 3:30, with images online showing cops escorting him shirtless and wearing shorts, with his leg bloodied. He has been charged with 10 counts of first degree murder, authorities announced Tuesday morning. He was injured during a shootout with police and is being held at a hospital. He will later be transferred to Boulder County Jail.
Al-Issa was born in Syria and came to the U.S. in 2002 when he was just 3 years old, according to a now-deleted Facebook profile.
His Facebook page features several wrestling videos, and the alleged shooter describes himself as a student of computer engineering and computer science at Metropolitan State University in Denver. However, MSU communications director Tim Carroll told VICE News that he is not, nor has he ever been, a student at the school.
His social media posts indicated an awareness about the climate of Islamophobia and hostility toward immigrants in the U.S. He shared a PBS article debunking myths about immigrants and called out the “industry of Islamophobia” after the March 2019 shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, left more than 50 people dead.
In 2019, he wrote that he was tired of “racist homophobes hacking my phone”—though it’s unclear what he was referencing specifically.
The accused gunman also appeared to have mourned the Paris Bataclan attacks in 2015 that left 130 people dead. He joined other Facebook users in changing his profile picture to one with the French flag filter.
The suspect’s brother, Ali Aliwi Al-Issa, told The Daily Beast that he believed his brother was mentally ill, describing him as “very anti-social” and “paranoid.” In high school, Ali said his brother talked about being “chased” as though “someone is behind him, someone is looking for him.”
Bruce Niyonkuru, a former classmate of the suspected gunman, told VICE News that he’d wrestled with him at Denver South High School from 2014-2016. A profile page on MaxPreps.com, a high school sports database, shows that the suspected gunman wrestled at Denver South High School until 2017.
Though Niyonkuru said he never talked to the suspect outside of practice, he described the suspected shooter as “quiet and pretty weird.”
“I didn’t think of him as someone who’d do something like this,” Niyonkuru told VICE News.
“He kept to himself most of the time,” Naylen Babeon, who was on the same wrestling team at Denver South, told VICE News. “He didn’t seem too into the sport. Ahmed didn’t go to all the practices. If I remember correctly he didn’t have a lot of friends.”
And another Denver South wrestler, Augie Filholm, said that the gunman wasn’t a great wrestler but had “some potential.” “He never talked about anything violent. Always seemed a little frustrated but in the teenage angst kind of way, nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.
Filholm described Denver South High School as being diverse with many students from different nationalities—due in part to English language initiatives that were offered alongside regular classes.
“We were very proud of this diversity. We had kids coming from various nations around the world, including many Middle Eastern nations,” said Filholm. “In my opinion, the climate at South was very accepting. But that's just how I felt at the time. Maybe I was seeing a more naïve picture of what it was really like.”
Other classmates didn’t paint the same rosy picture of school life. Mohamed Shawihdi, another former classmate from Denver High who was on the wrestling team, remembered that the shooter often talked about Islamophobia and racism. “There was still a little bit of racism there, but it wasn’t that bad,” Shawihdi said of the school. “I still had friends.”
Shawihdi said he wasn’t particularly close to the shooter but that they were paired in wrestling a few times when his regular partner wasn’t there. “He was just one of those odd people, like the kind who doesn’t talk to anyone on the bus,” Shawihdi said. “I always just thought he was really focused.” But at the same time, Shawihdi recalled, school rules meant that participation in extracurricular activities like wrestling were contingent on getting good grades. And the shooter rarely got good grades, so his presence in the wrestling club wasn’t very consistent.
The victims of the mass shooting at the King Soopers grocery store on Monday range in ages from 20 to 65. They were identified by police on Tuesday as 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.
Jeanette Olds, grandmother to 25-year-old Rikki Olds, told the Denver Post Tuesday that her granddaughter was a beautiful person and a beautiful soul.
“We’re all taking it pretty hard,” Jeanette Olds said. “She was a big part of our life here.”
Olds was a supermarket manager at King Soopers who would try to make her coworkers laugh when they were frustrated, one former employee told the Post. Others described her as “bubbly” and sociable, with the ability to make friends wherever she went.
The City of Boulder banned assault weapons in 2018, but that law was struck down in court just 10 days before the shooting at the King Soopers grocery store. Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman ruled that the city couldn’t enforce the ban.
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday evening, Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver said the city has plans to appeal that decision, but that ultimately local governments can only do so much to prevent mass gun violence.
“The consequences of us not having control over military-grade weapons in the hands of who knows who has them is that people will be killed and we’ve experienced that,” he said. “The real message is cities can’t handle this problem. Rules need to come from the state and federal levels.”
Weaver said he hopes the recent tragedy will push lawmakers to finally do something.
President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he would advocate for gun reform measures in Congress, including universal background checks and an assault weapons ban, CNN reported.
This is the second high-profile mass shooting in the U.S. in less than a week. Last Tuesday evening in Atlanta, a 21-year-old man attacked three different massage parlors and killed eight people, six of them Asian women.