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‘Nothing can fill the void’: Boulder reels from mass shooting as suspect is charged

Boulder residents paid their respects to the lives lost on March 22 and reflected on the long history of high-profile mass shootings in Colorado. (Video: Alexander Rosen, Lance Murphey, Whitney Shefte, Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post, Photo: Rachel Woolf/The Washington Post)

BOULDER, Colo. — A 21-year-old Colorado man was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder Tuesday after authorities said he walked into a King Soopers grocery store on a quiet Monday afternoon and gunned down 10 people, including police officer Eric Talley, a father of seven who responded to the rampage.

In a news conference Tuesday, authorities identified the suspect as Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa of Arvada, Colo., who was shot in the leg during the attack and later filmed being taken into custody. He was charged with 10 counts of murder in the first degree and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

The mass shooting — the second in the country in less than a week — has reignited the debate on gun violence, even as investigators struggle to identify a motive for this latest, horrific event.

Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold told reporters at a news conference Tuesday morning that authorities were doing “everything in our power to make sure this suspect has a thorough trial and we do a thorough investigation.”

The probe is ongoing, she said, asking anyone who knows anything about the tragedy to come forward.

“Nothing can replace, nothing can fill the void of the victims and their loved ones,” said Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty, “but I promise you we will hold him accountable.”

Speaking at the White House at midday, President Biden lamented the mass shooting, saying he was devastated that “another American city has been scarred by gun violence and the resulting trauma.” Biden called on the Senate to pass two background-check bills already approved by the House and for Congress to reenact an assault-weapons ban.

Later in Ohio, Biden said that he had spoken to the attorney general as well as FBI director Christopher A. Wray, and “the investigation is still ongoing. My heart goes out to the families.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) told CNN on Tuesday that regardless of what the investigation concludes, the tragic events “won’t make sense to anybody.” “There is no good motive; it is evil,” he said. “We will learn the dimensions of it; everybody is asking now why that site, why those people, none of us know that.”

In Washington, politicians on Capitol Hill debated next steps, each side taking their familiar positions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats would “keep fighting” to end gun violence, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called the talk about gun control “ridiculous theater.”

The 10 victims — who ranged in age from 20 to 65 — were identified as Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Eric Talley, 51; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jody Waters, 65.

Three worked at the store: Stong dreamed of becoming a pilot, Olds was a King Soopers manager who often danced in the aisles to make colleagues laugh, and Leiker was a longtime employee and sports fan, friends and family said. Fountain was a mother who loved community theater. Bartkowiak ran a clothing and accessories shop in downtown Boulder called Umba, and Waters also worked in fashion. Mahoney was expecting a granddaughter. Murray was a retired photo editor.

Stanisic was a Bosnian refugee who had been helping support his family since he was a teen, a member of his church said. He was at the Soopers store to fix the coffee machines.

Meanwhile, new witness accounts, police tapes and the Boulder police affidavit in support of Alissa’s arrest paint a clearer picture of the chaotic events of Monday afternoon, when the sound of gunfire pierced the scene at the local grocery, as those killed went about their daily business without realizing their “dreams of tomorrows” would “no longer come,” as Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver put it Tuesday.

A 2:30 p.m. call to dispatchers provided a window into the chaos and terror of the day, according to police radio traffic obtained by a local television station, KUSA, or 9News.

“We have multiple calls coming from people that have barricaded themselves inside,” a dispatcher told officers. “I just had another party that’s upstairs, second floor, hearing shots.”

Officers on the scene counted one person down, later identified as officer Talley.

Shots were fired between the gunman and responding officers, adding to the uncertainty.

“We’re in a gunfight,” one officer said, according to the tape.

Witnesses gave police gruesome accounts of the attack, describing a gunman they said opened fire inside and in the parking lot, at one point standing over an elderly victim and firing repeatedly, according to an affidavit from the Boulder police Tuesday.

In the affidavit, Detective Sarah Cantu says officers were dispatched about 2:40 p.m.

She wrote that Alissa walked backward to SWAT officers to be taken into custody, by that point stripped down to shorts, leaving a pile behind that included a vest, jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and two guns. He had blood on his thigh from what police later determined was a gunshot wound.

He was hospitalized after he was taken into custody.

When asked by police whether there were any other attackers, Cantu wrote, the shooting suspect did not directly answer, asking only to speak with his mother. He had apparently driven to the scene in a black Mercedes-Benz C-Class registered to his brother, and a discarded rifle case was in the passenger seat, authorities said.

Cantu said investigators determined Alissa bought a Ruger AR-556 rifle on March 16, six days before the shooting. At his home later, detectives tracked down a woman described as Alissa’s sister-in-law. She mentioned seeing Alissa playing with a gun that she described as looking like a “machine gun” two days earlier.

No one answered the door Tuesday at the Arvada home believed to be Alissa’s residence. A neighbor confirmed that FBI agents descended on the residence around 9:30 p.m. Monday and used a bullhorn to order occupants out of the house.

Monday’s arrest was not Alissa’s first brush with the law. He was charged with misdemeanor assault after hitting another student at Arvada West High School in 2017, records show. He was convicted the following year and sentenced to probation and community service.

A Facebook profile for Alissa showed him posting about martial arts and Islam, and it did not show evidence of “any radical or extremist views,” according to an analysis Tuesday by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online extremism. Analysts there reviewed an archived version of the Facebook page, which has been removed from the platform.

The North Central region of Colorado — abutting the snowcapped mountains of the Front Range — has seen as many as nine school shootings since the Columbine massacre in 1999, which left 12 students and a teacher dead. Four other major shootings have occurred within 20 miles of the high school.

In 2012, when a 25-year-old shooter opened fire on a packed theater in Aurora screening the latest “Batman” movie, killing 12 and injuring 58, it was at that point among the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history. That toll has since been surpassed several times.

On Tuesday, investigators continued to search for evidence. A news helicopter flew wide circles over the crime scene, and video crews set up in yards across the divided boulevard. An uneven barrier of wire fencing and police tape surrounded the store and its parking lot. Cars left behind overnight were covered in a dusting of snow and frost.

Dog walkers stepped over downed police tape. A couple walking hand in hand left a bouquet on the sidewalk.

Noting the three employees killed at the store, the union for Colorado grocery workers said in a statement that “every day of this pandemic, grocery workers have been bravely putting their health at risk on the frontlines of COVID-19 to keep our families fed. This shooting is a tragic reminder that the pandemic is not the only threat our communities face.”

A fourth worker, Logan Smith, survived and helped save the lives of multiple customers, many of them elderly, the United Food and Commercial Workers union said.

Authorities said they began making plans for the funeral of the fallen officer, Talley, whose body was draped in an American flag and escorted to the coroner’s office Monday night by hundreds of officers, their lights flashing.

Talley once had a stable job in information technology that provided for his children and his wife. The couple educated their seven children in their Colorado home.

But in 2010, after one of his closest friends died in a DUI crash, he quit, left behind his master’s degree and enrolled in the police academy at age 40, according to his friends and family.

As an officer, Talley first made headlines when he and others rescued 11 small ducklings and their mother trapped in a drainage ditch, the Daily Camera reported.

His sister, Kirstin Brooks, told The Washington Post that Talley was very protective, “everything a big brother was supposed to be.”

“If I got in trouble as a kid, he always took it — he said, ‘No, no, no, it was me,” Brooks said.

That protectiveness carried into their relationship as adults. He would often call and check in with Brooks, reminding her to take care of herself and her family and to be safe. She said he also watched closely over his big family, with kids as young as 7 and as old as 20.

So when she heard about what happened Monday, she had a sense of what had gone through her brother’s mind.

“I honestly know my brother, when he heard there was a shooting in a supermarket, I know his first thought was ‘There are kids in there,’ ” Brooks said. “I know why he flew in there first, because he was thinking, ‘There are families in that store.’ ”

Miller, Schneider and Jennifer Oldham also reported from Denver. Julie Tate, Jennifer Jenkins, Andrea Salcedo, Lateshia Beachum, Timothy Bella, Teo Armus, Keith McMillan, Craig Timberg, Colby Itkowitz, Marisa Iati, Hannah Knowles, Paulina Firozi and Michael E. Miller contributed to this report.