Colleen Slevin and Patty Nieberg
BOULDER, Colo. — The suspected gunman in the Boulder supermarket shooting that killed 10 people appeared in court Thursday for the first time, and a defense attorney immediately asked for an assessment of his mental health.
Kathryn Herold, the lawyer for suspect Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, provided no details about what condition he might suffer from.
During the brief hearing, Alissa did not speak other than to say "yes" to a question from the judge, who advised him of the 10 charges of first-degree murder he faces. He did not enter a plea, which will come later in the judicial process.
Alissa entered court in a wheelchair, presumably because of the gunshot wound to the leg that he suffered in the shooting. One of his attorneys leaned down to talk to him before the hearing began, and Alissa nodded his head as the attorney spoke to him. Four deputies with black bands of mourning across their badges stood close by.
Alissa appeared alert and attentive. He wore a mask and purple, short-sleeved coveralls.
The 21-year-old suspect remains held without bail. Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said authorities planned to file more charges, but he did not elaborate.
At Herold's request, Alissa's next hearing will not be scheduled for two to three months to allow the defense team to evaluate his mental health and evidence collected by investigators.
"Our position is we cannot do anything until we are able to fully assess Mr. Alissa's mental illness. We cannot begin to assess the nature and depth of Mr. Alissa's mental illness until we have discovery from the government," Herold said, referring to evidence that prosecutors will eventually turn over to the defense.
The court appearance marked the first time that Alissa has appeared in public since he was arrested Monday inside the King Soopers supermarket in Boulder.
Alissa was last seen handcuffed and being led out of the supermarket by police. He had removed all clothing except his shorts before being taken into custody. A rifle, a green tactical vest and a handgun were recovered inside the grocery store, according to an arrest affidavit.
After the hearing, Dougherty told reporters outside the courthouse that he was "confident" that the courts "can find 12 people who will be fair and who will be opened minded and reach the right verdict when the time comes."
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.
Relatives have described times when Alissa told them people were following or chasing him, which they said may have contributed to the violence, the official said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
While most Colorado court proceedings during the pandemic have been conducted with suspects appearing by video, District Judge Thomas Francis Mulvahill ordered Alissa to appear before him in court, though the public and the media were not allowed inside.
Dozens of media trucks and reporters stood outside the courthouse on a cold, clear morning. There was no sign of protesters or victims' families.
In addition to Boulder police Officer Eric Talley, 51, the victims were Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jodi Waters, 65. Leiker, Olds and Stong worked at the supermarket.
According to the arrest affidavit, the suspect bought a Ruger AR-556 pistol — which resembles an AR-15 rifle with a slightly shorter stock — on March 16, six days before the attack. Authorities have not disclosed where the gun was purchased.
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 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.
More than 500 people bundled in winter jackets and wool hats attended a downtown candlelight vigil Wednesday night to mourn the victims and comfort one another. They observed a moment of silence; violins soothed the crowd; a woman sang "Ave Maria" as candle flames flickered in the crisp air. A star-shaped light usually turned on for the holidays glowed on a mountain overlooking the open square.
Michele Weiner-Davis, a Boulder family therapist, offered the community some words of wisdom.
"Whatever you're feeling, whatever you're thinking, no matter how uncomfortable, it's completely natural," Weiner-Davis said. "Be patient with yourself. Additionally, be just as compassionate with the people in your lives who might also be struggling."
Earlier Wednesday, hundreds of people paid their respects during a police procession for Talley as his body was taken to a funeral home in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
Police also announced that people whose cars were left in the supermarket parking lot Monday could retrieve them.
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Colleen Long in Washington, Jim Anderson in Denver, Thalia Beaty in New York 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.