By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - The 21-year-old suspect in this week's Colorado mass shooting legally purchased the semi-automatic weapon used in the attack, and he will face additional charges for attempted murder, officials said on Friday.
Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty and Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold told a briefing they were still trying to figure out what drove Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa to open fire on Monday at the King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, some 28 miles (45 km) northwest of Denver.
Ten people were killed in the rampage, including a police officer. It was the second mass shooting in less than a week in the United States, after a gunman fatally shot eight people at three Atlanta-area day spas on March 16.
"Like the rest of the community, we want to know why. Why that King Soopers, why Boulder, why Monday, and unfortunately we don’t have those answers," Herold said. "It will be something haunting for all of us until we figure that out."
Alissa, who made his first court appearance on Thursday, has been charged with 10 counts of murder and an attempted murder charge. Dougherty said the suspect would face additional attempted murder charges in the coming weeks.
The suspect, who is being held without bail, purchased a Ruger AR-556 pistol, a weapon that resembles a semi-automatic rifle, six days before the attack. He did not use a handgun also in his possession during Monday's attack, Dougherty said.
The store where Alissa bought the Ruger said the suspect passed a background check before making the purchase legally.
"We are absolutely shocked by what happened and our hearts are broken for the victims and families that are left behind," said John Mark Eagleton, owner of the Eagles Nest Armory in Arvada, the city close to Boulder which Alissa called home.
"Ensuring every sale that occurs at our shop is lawful has always been and will always remain the highest priority for our business."
Doughtery said the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were investigating the guns that Alissa had on him that day as well as other firearms that are connected to him, and that a large team was still processing a highly complex crime scene.
"If you picture a supermarket, picture all of the shelves, all of the products and everything. They are going through every single shelf," Dougherty said.
Alissa's brother has said the suspect suffered from paranoia, and his lawyer on Thursday asked that he be given a full mental health examination. Alissa pleaded guilty to a third-degree assault in 2018 for punching a high school classmate without warning the previous year.
The Boulder and Atlanta attacks have reignited a national debate over gun rights protected by the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, and prompted President Joe Biden to call for new legislation from Congress and consider executive actions to try to stop gun violence. A bill intended to impose stricter background checks and ban certain types of semi-automatic rifles has stalled amid Republican opposition.
Colorado has passed gun control laws that include background checks for gun purchases, limit the capacity of magazines to 10 rounds and enable the courts to temporarily seize the gun of someone deemed dangerous. But it is not among the seven states, plus the District of Columbia, that have banned certain types of semi-automatic rifles.
The United States banned them nationwide in 1994 but a more conservative U.S. Congress allowed the law to expire in 2004. Federal gun control legislation has mostly failed ever since, even after a gunman killed 20 young schoolchildren and six adults in a Connecticut school just before Christmas 2012.
(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Brendan O'Brien and Daniel Trotta; editing by Jonathan Oatis)