The voices. They whisper incessantly. They never stop. They grow louder if they are ignored. They consume the mind of the host body, deepening its mood, darkening its soul. Binding and blinding.
And those voices will become the central tenet of the team of defence attorneys that will try to keep Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa in a mental health facility likely for the rest of his life — and out of maximum security prisons where a “normal” killer of 10 people might instead be placed.
The Boulder Police Department issued Alissa’s booking picture on Tuesday, a day after he was arrested at a large grocery store in the Colorado city. The 21-year old had opened fire with an AR-15 pistol and killed 10 people including a BPD officer.
Booking photos often reveal so much about suspects, hair tossed, appearances dishevelled, eyes vacant, nearly always unshaven. No one ever looks their best when their picture is taken for the posterity of law-enforcement officials the world over. Depending on the horror of the accused’s crime, you might try to get a sense of whether it lingered after their arrest, fingerprinting and processing up to the point of being captured by the police portrait photographer. But does anyone dress to kill?
A search of his home, police said, turned up other weapons, Maybe we should be thankful those voices didn’t tell him to bring them to the supermarket. As it was, the AR-15 pistol had been modified with an arm brace. I googled the model to see what it looks like — essentially it’s a handgun on steroids, more like an assault rifle with a shortened body and not the type of weapon you would ever want to face. Nor to be able to buy off the shelves anywhere but in the United States where the right to bear such arms as a constitutional right to exercise freedom, mayhem, murder and carry out the wishes of those voices inside your head.
Interesting indeed that all of the voices that have called out for meaningful gun control in the wake of these shootings and tragedies go unheard.
Authorities believe Alissa was the only person involved and that there was no additional threat to the community. He has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and one charge of attempted murder, according to his arrest warrant.
According to police, the gunman had “removed all of his clothing and was dressed only in shorts” when he was taken into custody, the affidavit said. Outside the store, he wouldn’t tell police whether there were other suspects, but he did ask to speak to his mother. He also purchased a Ruger AR556 pistol on March 16.
Michael Dougherty, Boulder County district attorney, said the suspect is a resident of Arvada, between Boulder and Denver, who has “lived most of his life in the United States.”
His family emigrated from Syria and have lived in the Arvada area since 2014.
His brother said the suspect may have been suffering from mental illness. Ali Al Aliwi Alissa told CNN that high school bullies made fun of Alissa’s name and that may have contributed to him becoming “antisocial.”
“People chose not to mess with him because of his temper, people chose not to really talk to him because of all — how he acted and things like that. So yeah, he was very alone,” said Damien Cruz, who said he has known Alissa since the fifth grade.
Those who thought they know him — does anyone truly ever know anyone else? — said Alissa had become increasingly “paranoid” around 2014, believing he was being followed and chased. At one point, the young man covered the camera on his computer with duct tape so he could not be seen, said the brother, who lived with Alissa.
“He always suspected someone was behind him, someone was chasing him,” Ali Alissa said. “We kept a close eye on him when he was in high school. He would say, ‘Someone is chasing me, someone is investigating me.’ And we’re like, ‘Come on man. There’s nothing.’ ... He was just closing into himself,” the family told CNN.
Alissa’s Facebook page shows posts saying he believed his former high school had been hacking into his phone.
When his Facebook friends questioned how he knew the school was hacking his phone, Alissa said: “I believe part racism for sure. But I also believe someone spread rumours about me which are false and maybe that set it off.”
The profile claims Alissa attended Arvada West High School. Jefferson County Public Schools confirmed Alissa was a student there from March 2015 until he graduated in May 2018.
Alissa was not very political or particularly religious, according to his brother, who said he never heard the young man threaten to use violence.
“The entire thing surprised me,” Ali Alissa said of the Monday’s shootings. “I never ever would have thought he would do such a thing. I never thought he would kill. I still can’t believe it. I am really sad for the lives that he wasted, and I feel sorry for all those families. ... We lost a brother even if he is the killer.”
Sadly, many more people lost loved ones because of Alissa’s actions.
Maybe mental health experts, those who connect with the lost, those who knit together the strings of mental illness, might be able to one day say what truly drove this man to act as he did.
Maybe too, one day, it might be truly difficult for anyone to own weapons that allow the lost to find their way to kill again and again. Those are voices that need to be heard.
— With inputs from agencies