Thomas Peipert, Colleen Slevin and Bernard Condon
BOULDER, Colo. — About 2,000 people gathered for a vigil honoring the 10 people killed in the Colorado supermarket shooting Thursday night after attorneys for the shooting suspect asked during his first court appearance that he receive a mental health evaluation before the case against him proceeds.
The memorial at Fairview High School, a half-mile from the scene of the shooting at a King Soopers supermarket, emphasized remembrance and healing. The crowd said aloud the names of those slain this week in Boulder after one resident read the names of the eight people killed in a mass shooting in Georgia just days earlier.
Many held candles and roses while locking arms or embracing each other near the base of the snow-covered Rocky Mountain foothills. After a singer led the crowd in “Amazing Grace,” Nicole LiaBraaten, a local leader of the gun-control group Moms Demand Action, asked people to “take a healing breath.”
“Our hearts are broken, and our festering wounds are split open once again. And this time it’s for the whole world to see,” said Liabraaten, whose group helped organize the vigil.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, whose district includes Boulder, told the crowd no words could describe how he felt when he heard about the shooting.
“Ten lives. Ten precious lives lost too soon and remembered by so many,” he said.
Neguse said he had spoken with some of his colleagues about how to curb gun violence. “It does not have to be this way,” he said, prompting cheers.
One woman yelled, “Ban assault weapons.” That prompted another woman to scold her for not showing respect. “This is about people who died,” she said. “This is a memorial.”
Earlier Thursday, an attorney for accused shooter Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa asked for the mental health evaluation but provided no details about Alissa's mental health. The suspect's next hearing will not be scheduled for two to three months to allow the defense to evaluate his mental state and evidence collected by investigators.
“Our position is we cannot do anything until we are able to fully assess Mr. Alissa’s mental illness,” public defender Kathryn Herold said.
Alissa, 21, did not speak except to say “yes” to a question from the judge, who advised him that he is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for allegedly shooting at a police officer, who was unhurt.
Boulder officer, 51-year-old Eric Talley, was among those killed. His funeral was set for next Tuesday.
Alissa did not enter a plea, which will come later in the judicial process. He has been jailed without bail.
Alissa entered court in a wheelchair, presumably because of a gunshot wound to the leg that he suffered Monday in a gunbattle with police. He appeared alert and attentive, his eyes darting back and forth from his lawyers to the judge.
Boulder police tweeted Thursday that they used the handcuffs of the slain officer, Talley, to take the suspect from a hospital to jail earlier this week — and told him so.
A law enforcement official briefed on the shooting previously said that the suspect’s family told investigators they believed Alissa was suffering some type of mental illness, including delusions. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Alissa’s legal team includes public defender Daniel King, who represented Colorado theater gunman James Holmes, as well as Robert Dear, who is accused of killing three people in a 2015 attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, two cases in which mental illness was a factor.
Depending on what they learn from investigators about Alissa’s mental health, his lawyers could ask the court to order an examination by a psychiatrist or psychologist to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.
If defendants are unable to understand the proceedings and assist their lawyers, proceedings can be delayed to see if treatment, such as medication, can make them ready for trial.
A mentally ill defendant might eventually plead not guilty by reason of insanity, as Holmes did in the 2012 shooting at an Aurora movie theater that killed 12 people and injured 70. It would be up to a jury to decide whether the defendant knew right from wrong at the time of the crime — the state’s legal definition of insanity.
Screenshots of what was believed to be Alissa’s Facebook page hint of fears that he was secretly being tracked on his phone and reflect his interest in Islamic teachings, immigration and martial arts. The screenshots and dozens of postings were captured by the online extremist tracking firm SITE Intelligence Group.
“There was no indication on his Facebook account that suggested radical views of any kind, whether it be Islamist, anti-Trump, or anything else,” said Rita Katz, executive director of SITE, which analyzed the postings. “He did mention Islam on his Facebook, but never to any extremity.”
In July 2019, Alissa wrote that his phone was being hacked by “racist islamophobic people.” At another point, he wrote that his old high school had likely gotten access to his phone, asking Facebook followers for advice on how to stop it.
After a white supremacist killed 51 people in the 2019 New Zealand mosque massacre, Alissa called the dead “victims of the entire Islamophobia industry that vilified them.”
“What Islam is really about,” he wrote in one post that referred to a list of teachings from the Koran, including to “be good to others” and “restrain anger.”
According to two law enforcement officials, Alissa was born in Syria in 1999, emigrated to the U.S. as a toddler and later became a U.S. citizen. He would need to be a citizen to buy a gun. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
An AR-15-style gun recovered inside the supermarket was believed to have been used in the attack, said a law enforcement official briefed on the shooting who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Associated Press writers Jim Anderson in Denver, Patty Nieberg in Boulder, Bernard Condon in New York, Michael Balsamo and Colleen Long in Washington and AP staff members from around the U.S. contributed to this report. Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.