Ahmad Alissa, charged with 10 counts of murder in the March 22 mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers, left conflicting memories of a quiet teen prone to outbursts of anger at Arvada West High …
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Ahmad Alissa, charged with 10 counts of murder in the March 22 mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers, left conflicting memories of a quiet teen prone to outbursts of anger at Arvada West High School.
Ten victims tragically perished in the massacre; Denny Stong, 20; Nevin Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Teri Leiker, 51; Officer Eric Talley, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jody Waters, 65.
Charged with their murders is Alissa - a name that has become known in households across the country over the last week. For Arvadans, the shooter bears an unseemly connection; Alissa, 21, has been an Arvada resident for the last seven years.
Before Alissa walked into the Table Mesa Drive King Soopers at 2:30 p.m. on March 22 with an AR-556, he was a student at Arvada West High School, which he attended school from March 2015 until his graduation in May 2018.
At Arvada West, Alissa competed on the wrestling team for each of the three full school years he completed. Before moving to Arvada in 2014, he attended Denver South High School for part of his freshman year.
Alissa was born in Syria in 1999. He moved to the United States in 2002 and later became a citizen. His family owns the Sultan Grill on 64th Avenue - which has been closed since the shootings.
Alissa’s troubles began during his time at Arvada West. Six days before his 18th birthday, he was ticketed for a driver’s license restriction violation. Alissa pleaded guilty to the charge, which was later dismissed by the district attorney.
Seven months later, things escalated. Alissa was charged with assaulting Alex Kimose, a fellow Arvada West student. At the time, Alissa claimed Kimose had bullied him and called him racial slurs, allegations that Kimose denied.
A statement issued by Kimose family attorney Elizabeth Krupa on March 24 called the attack “unprovoked.” Alissa pleaded guilty to class one misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to a year of probation and 48 hours of community service on April 11, 2018. Alissa’s probation was later extended by two months.
It wasn’t Alissa’s first outburst at Arvada West. A year earlier, he engaged in a wrestle-off; an occurrence where a junior varsity wrestler challenges a varsity wrestler in their weight class to a match, with a promotion to varsity offered to the junior varsity wrestler if they defeat their varsity counterpart.
A two-year junior varsity wrestler with a middling 5-18 record, Alissa would have moved up to varsity had he won the wrestle-off. When he lost the tryout, he did not take it well.
Wrestling team manager Kayli Porterfield, who graduated from Arvada West in 2017, recalls Alissa threatening the team and storming out of the room.
“He lost his wrestle-off and he got very, very angry,” said Porterfield, “and he stormed out of the wrestling room but before he did, he shouted at all of us. And he shouted that he was going to kill us all, but no one took that part seriously. But we understood that he was angry, and we all knew that he would get angry like that.
“He was a pretty quiet kid,” Porterfield continued, “but he was always pretty nice as long as he wasn’t upset. But I’ve seen him get upset to the point after a wrestling match if he loses that he would throw his headgear and storm off the match and wouldn’t acknowledge anyone. I’ve seen him get into fights after wrestling matches.”
Porterfield said that it became known among the wrestling team that after Alissa lost his wrestle-off, he got into a fistfight with his opponent, who was allegedly taunting him after the match.
Alissa quit the wrestling team for the rest of his junior year after this incident but rejoined during his senior year and made varsity. His senior wrestling season ended in Dec. 2017 - four months before the assault incident with Kimose.
News of the assault incident traveled like wildfire around Arvada West. Other classmates noticed that Alissa was becoming increasingly more aggressive.
A classmate of Alissa’s who graduated with him in 2018 and wished to remain anonymous said although they had previously asked Alissa for help in math class, they began to keep their distance from him around this time.
“That’s when I did notice to kind of keep my distance from him because he was getting a little more aggressive and people noticed,” said the classmate. “I asked not to sit next to him in class anymore and I just tried to avoid him as much as possible during passing periods. I stopped asking him for help in class.”
The classmate added that they remembered Alissa saying that a lot of people at Arvada West were not friendly to him.
“I remember him saying that a lot of people didn’t really accept him,” said the classmate. “I think it was because he didn’t speak a lot of English, he said, or his accent from where he was from was really heavy so a lot of people couldn’t understand him, and he would get frustrated having to repeat himself.”
Porterfield added that he had few friends at the school and experienced bullying because of his receding hairline.
“I did know about people bullying him because he was balding at a younger age,” said Porterfield, “and I’ve heard about people bullying him for being Muslim, but I’ve never really seen any of that. There was one point where he said that if someone said anything about him being a Muslim, he would file it as a hate crime. So, he was very sensitive about that even though no one ever said anything about that in the wrestling room.”
The bullying Alissa faced because of his early balding was not physical in nature, Porterfield said, but verbal.
“It would just be people giving him crap,” said Porterfield. “Like they wouldn’t put their hands on him or anything, they would just talk some crap to him that he would take really personally.”
Representatives from Arvada West and Jefferson County Public Schools were unable to comment on the school’s response to Alissa’s transgressions because they are covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The Arvada West alumni consulted for this piece were still reeling from the development that they knew the shooter when contacted by the Arvada Press.
“I’ve given him rides home before and he’d be really nice but still really quiet - I just figured he was a quiet kid,” said Porterfield. “I figured he had some anger management problems because in high school, some kids are like that.”
“Honestly, I’m really still trying to soak it in,” said the classmate who wished to remain anonymous, “but it was very... It was scary, it was sad because I feel like mental illness can play a part in this, and one of those things that is overlooked these days, but it’s just... I don’t know, it’s been a lot of emotions to process.”
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