The Navy Yard’s Lone Gunman

Details on Aaron Alexis are surfacing, but motive remains unknown

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FBI Handout / Getty Images

Aaron Alexis

Early reports suggested there were three shooters blasting away inside the Washington Navy Yard on Monday morning. But the number dwindled to two as police swarmed around Building 197, headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command, which drafts blueprints and oversees production of the Navy’s fleet. By lunchtime, it was becoming increasingly clear — as in so many of these cases — there was only a lone gunman involved.

But this case was different: it didn’t involve a location somewhere far from the seat of the national government. In fact, it happened inside a secure and historic U.S. military facility, almost within the shadow of the U.S. Capitol dome.

And it involved an ex-sailor, who had been studying Buddhism and, according to colleagues, regularly meditated and embraced its nonviolent ethos. Yet initial reports suggest that beneath Aaron Alexis’ mild-mannered exterior lurked a man familiar with guns and anger, a combination that reached critical mass, for reasons still unknown, at the Navy Yard at 8:20 a.m. on Monday.

A red flag that might have averted the massacre was missed: Alexis had been visiting the Department of Veterans Affairs for mental-health care, law enforcement sources told the Associated Press, including treatment for paranoia. But the Navy hadn’t ruled him mentally unfit, which would have terminated the security clearance that let him work at the Navy Yard.

(MORE: Exclusive: Navy Yard Dropped Its Guard, Pentagon Inspector General Says)

Navy Yard Shooter Alleged Suspect Aaron Alexis

FBI Handout / Getty Images

Aaron Alexis

Alexis, 34, served as a full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to 2011. In January 2011, he received a general discharge — one step down from the usual honorable discharge — for what Navy officials said was “a pattern of misconduct.” Originally from New York City, Alexis spent his last three years in uniform at the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron at the Fort Worth, Texas, Naval Air Station, reaching the rank of aviation electrician’s mate third class.

afg-050214-040

DoD

National Defense Service Medal ribbon, aka the Pizza Stain

He had earned the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal during his service, simply for serving (the first is known as the “pizza stain” because it’s so common). Alexis was also pursuing an online degree in aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

After leaving the Navy, he went to work as a waiter at the Happy Bowl Thai restaurant not far from his old post, the former Carswell Air Force Base. “He was such a quiet, unassuming guy, you almost expected him to be wearing a pocket protector,” says Bud Kennedy, a columnist at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, who had been served Thai food by Alexis at the Happy Bowl.

“He seemed a little geeky,” Kennedy adds, “and didn’t seem to know that much about Thai food.” But Alexis was studying the Thai language, and becoming involved in Buddhism and its message of nonviolence.

Kennedy said the family that runs the restaurant reported that Alexis had left nearly a year ago to do computer work for a defense contractor, including stints in Washington. Alexis had been working for a company that computer giant Hewlett-Packard hired to help maintain the Navy Marine Corps Intranet, basically the sea service’s in-house Internet. According to HP, Alexis was employed by The Experts, an entity helping Hewlett-Packard maintain the network.

“He lived with me three years,” Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, owner of Happy Bowl, told the Star-Telegram. “I don’t think he’d do this … He has a gun, but I don’t think he’s that stupid. He didn’t seem aggressive to me.”

But Alexis had fired guns — at least once in anger — before. He had been arrested in 2010 after discharging a firearm — accidentally, he said — through the ceiling of his Fort Worth apartment and into a neighbor’s unit above. The two had quarreled in the past — he said she was too loud, according to a Fort Worth police report — and she said she believed the shooting was deliberate, and that Alexis “terrified” her. Alexis was arrested on suspicion of discharging a weapon in a municipality, held overnight in jail, but never charged.

(PHOTOS: D.C. Horror: Shooting at Navy Yard)

And in 2004, Alexis shot out the tires of a construction worker’s car in Seattle during what he later called an anger-fueled “blackout,” according to the report filed by Seattle police. He blamed his action on the 9/11 attacks, when he had been living in the New York City area, and had tried to help rescue those killed in the terrorist attacks, according to what his father later told police. He was never charged in that incident, either.

Alexis’ motive for the shooting remains cloudy. Led by the FBI, Navy officials said they would explore every possibility, ranging from workplace troubles to a lone-wolf terrorist attack. Until recently, Alexis worked, at least occasionally, as a contractor at the Navy Yard.

The dearth of information as to motive was palpable. “The FBI is asking for the public’s assistance with any information regarding Alexis,” the bureau said on its website, where it posted two photographs of him, about eight hours after the shooting.

“No piece of information is too small,” implored Valerie Parlave, the assistant director of the Washington field office of the FBI, at a Monday afternoon briefing. “We are looking to learn everything we can about his recent movements, his contacts and his associates.”

Witnesses and police said Alexis, clad in black, apparently used a shotgun to shoot a security guard to gain entry into Building 197. He took the guard’s pistol, and then made his way to the building’s fourth floor, also armed with an AR-15 he may have taken from a second police officer he shot. On the fourth floor, which rings an atrium over a first-floor cafeteria, Alexis sprayed gunfire at those down below. “He didn’t say a word,” Navy Yard worker Todd Brundage told CNN.

Navy Sea Systems Command — NAVSEA — is the largest of the Navy’s five system commands, and about 3,000 people work in its headquarters building. With a fiscal-year budget of nearly $30 billion, NAVSEA accounts for one-quarter of the Navy’s annual spending. Its 60,000 civilian, military and contract-support personnel design, build, buy and maintain the Navy fleet.

The Navy Yard is a onetime shipyard and ordnance facility located on 126 acres (51 hectares) in the southeast quadrant of Washington, about a mile south of the U.S. Capitol. It is the ceremonial home of the U.S. Navy, and the residence of the Navy’s top officer, the chief of naval operations, is on its grounds. In 1996, Admiral Jeremy “Mike” Boorda killed himself with a shot to the chest on a bench outside that house, after questions surfaced about whether or not he had earned a pair of combat decorations he had been wearing.

Alexis’ family issued a statement following the shooting. “Our hearts go out to you. We apologize for the inconvenience of losing a loved one,” it read. “We also lost a loved one.”

– With reporting by Elizabeth Dias

MORE: ‘Run As Fast As You Can!': Inside Building 197

81 comments
small_axe
small_axe

I wonder if people's knee-jerk reactions are a product of their avoiding the issue? What's with the crazy talk about violent video games? How many people play them regularly? About 100 million? Of that sample set, how many bypass the 'punch a wall' phase when they feel stressed out and go right to level 9 and start massacring random people? The number is so close to zero that it might as well be zero. It would make as much sense to speculate if driving a car makes people go crazy and kill people, or to speculate if people who eat cereal for breakfast have a higher propensity for going "postal".

Don't get me wrong. We, as a society, DO need to figure out what this craziness is about, but jumping on the cheap and quick non-answer as the answer is a shortcut to real deep thinking, and is both passively and pro-actively harmful.

KathyT
KathyT

Wow!  "The inconvenience  of losing a loved one..."    You can tell the family hasn't hired a lawyer yet to help them with the press.   They obviously wrote that less than worthless statement themselves.   Idiots.  The apple didn't fall too far from the tree.  
 



manlyman
manlyman

You leave little doubt as to where you stand in the morals dept. Jmac. Mental illness runs rampant here at swampland.

jmac
jmac

We're having three more hearings on Benghazi.   That's what this is about.  It's NOT about the slaughter of little children in an elementary school or the slaughter of a dozen in a Naval yard   -

It's about four adults in a CIA outpost in Africa who knew they were in a dangerous situation and refused extra protection and whether Hillary covered up anything.  Four adults dead !   Awk!!!!! 

VOTE REPUBLICAN.   They know what's important to our country as they plan to take the economy down further with their game of chicken hawk.   Please vote Republican because they're as UnAmerican as the NRA that owns us.  Even John Wayne at this point might have gotten a brain - or not - I just saw a bumper sticker promoting the guy and the loss of our great Wild West so grown MEN can play cowboy.   

grape_crush
grape_crush

> It's the mental illness, stupid.

> It's the guns, stupid.

It's the combination of the two, y'all.

Problem is that we don't have a good means of knowing who's mentally ill (and/or prone to violent behavior) and who owns a firearm. Or a way to cross-index the two. Or a legal means to remove firearms from people who have a higher probability of committing an act of violence.

Or the political will to make any of the above happen.

Which means that stories like these will become even more commonplace. Unless you're the one getting shot, or a family member or friend of a shooting victim.

ranroddeb
ranroddeb

I'm curious of the racial makeup of the victims in regard to motive.

ManuelNoriega
ManuelNoriega

well hopefully obama and biden will use the victims families as props again and try to ram through another  new round of unpopular gun control legislation.  their credibility is still a little to strong for my taste.


or they could just quit being weak kneed bleeding heart trembling violets and grow some balls and put this country back on track so people wouldn't feel the need to go postal quite as often.  but that obviously isn't going to happen, so expect more random workplace violence

flameworker2
flameworker2

It occurs to me that here we sit listening to news reports, the public searching for answers about a horrific event that happened right in our midst, politicians and reporters grabbng at bits of information about the killer that friends and neighbors are willing to give, any yet somehow there are still people who want to blame the President and the State Department for not being able to predict the events in Benghazi half a world away. Kind of puts it all in perspective.

petunia
petunia

As the doctor who treated the victims said.  We need to look at the state of mental illness in this country!  If we could get a handle on the mentally ill we would not have to talk about gun control.

It seems like both sides would be able to agree on finding a solution to protecting people from the mentally ill among us.  I don't mean to be cruel to them, but how well off are they after they kill people at shopping centers in Tucson, movie theaters in Aurora, elementary schools in Newtown, or the Navy Yard in DC? 

Everyone, including the mentally ill are hurt by our neglect of them.  They wander our streets, and talk to invisible people... you've seen them, I'm sure, and then some of them pick up a gun... who knows what demons they are shooting.  We need to get control of psychiatry, it is ruining our society.

How is it protecting their privacy to allow them to stand on street corners talking to invisible people?  They need to be in institutions.

flameworker2
flameworker2

In Virginia, you are not allowed to carry a concealed weapon if : "An individual who has received mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment in a residential setting within five years prior to the date of his application for a concealed handgun permit."

Seriously.  Five years and one day and you're good to go.  And what about the vast number of mentally ill people who definitely should NOT have access to a gun who have been treated but not in a residential setting?  This is ludicrous.

Please don't tell me how we don't need more laws or that guns don't kill people.  What we need is to get rid of idiot politicians who get paid by the gun lobby to write vacuous laws like this.





JoseAlvesAlves
JoseAlvesAlves

Lamentável o ocorrido (12 (doze) pessoas assinadas) na Marinha Americana ontem.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

The surest way to reduce gun violence is not to take away guns from law abiding citizens it is to incarcerate those that commit crimes with guns for as long as possible. Why are we so reluctant to do that?  The murderer of 12 innocent people had an extensve history in many states of violence with guns yet nothing was done. He was never prosocuted for any of his crimes. With this histroy and his questionable discharge from the Navy he was still able to get the secret clearence he needed to work as a contractor for the Navy .He was cleared again in July. Why? 

ScallywagNYC
ScallywagNYC

As the media go about trying to explain Alexis' motives perhaps one ought to examine the state of affairs that allows such lone gunmen to go on their rampage. Is it a situation of a failure of the social system, mental healthcare being shrugged away, lobby groups diverting discussion from stricter gun laws (is it a coincidence such lenient gun laws lead to an ever cycle of massacres here in the US?), an increase in the use of pharmaelogical drug use to combat stress and mental issues that exacerbates sudden snapping ( a revolving theme in the military and modern day America), veterans feeling used and abused, a society that glorifies violence, that denounces and isolates freaks (is that what Alexis felt of himself?) or how about the notion that we simply live in a violent culture that forces most of us to fend for ourselves until some of us just snap with the passage of time and the untreated symptoms of self destruction and a society that dares not address real issues?

Then again what do you care, you avoided been shot at this time.....right?

http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2013/09/washington-navy-yard-shooting-aaron-alexis-anger-problems-kicked-navy/

marykellogg
marykellogg

His family apologizes for the "inconvenience of losing a loved one"...are you KIDDING me? 

littleredtop
littleredtop

This guy's military record suggests that he was a looser right from the beginning.  Add to that mental illness and you have the conditions suggesting potential disaster.  It's the mentally ill who kill - not guns. 

flameworker2
flameworker2

@KathyT I don't know who issued the family statement, their level of education or how much time they were given to prepare the statement.  I'd give them a break because undoubtedly they were in shock as well.  The shooter's mother gave this statement. ""Our son Aaron Alexis has murdered 12 people and wounded several others," Cathleen Alexis says in the statement. "His actions have had a profound and everlasting effect on the families of the victims. I don't know why he did what what he did, and I'll never be able to ask him, why. Aaron is now in a place where he can no longer do harm to anyone, and for that I am glad. To the families of the victims, I am so, so very sorry that this has happened. My heart is broken."

jmac
jmac

@manlyman  Manly little man - why do men feel the need to arm themselves to the teeth and shoot people?  Low self-esteem?  Where are the women who strap on an weapon and prance around Star Bucks to show their womanhood?   Maybe they're a little bit more secure than you lowly little men and your big destructive weapons - that kill people.  Macho.  Manly.   Afraid the little woman's going to take it out of your cold dead hands?  

manlyman
manlyman

A half-world away, or on a screen in real time, depends on your perspective. Hard to predict a whole lot tho when your in bed fast asleep.

vrome
vrome

@petunia

I couldn't agree with you more.  Too many people with mental illness are allowed to suffer needlessly so that their "liberties" can be "protected."   

grape_crush
grape_crush

 @Fastgirl > The surest way to reduce gun violence is not to take away guns from law abiding citizens it is to incarcerate those that commit crimes with guns for as long as possible.

Yes, let's wait until after someone goes on a shooting spree to make sure they can't do it again.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@marykellogg Yes what a statement saying and using the word 'Inconvenience " these must be very ignorant people. What morons no wonder there son had issues. 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Perfectarc No its more the mental illness dummy. because mentally ill people will kill you anyway they can by knife, shovel, hatchet, buss saw it does not matter what the instrument of death is ,the mental issue is the culprit, a gun is just a tool.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@Perfectarc No, it's the person, his/her mental and emotional stability and his/her sense of responsibility to the community.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

@grape_crush @Fastgirl This man had a history dating back to 2000 of violence with guns in many states and was never prosectued. WHY? He shot out the tires of a truck because he said the constructuon workers were being disrespectful of him. He shot through the ceiling of his neighbor's apartment because he claimed she was too noisy. He was discharged from the Navy because of an incident with a gun in another state. Why was he allowed to play by a different set of rules than most Americans? If he had been prosecuted and jailed for an extensive amount of time he wouldn't have been out and allowed to commit the murder of 12 people. Like it or not, the fact still remains that the surest way to reduce gun violence is to put those people who commit crimes with guns in jail for as long as possible. Sorry that doesn't support your little narrative. We need to ask ourselves why are we so reluctant to jail people who commit these crimes? 

anon76
anon76

@Openminded1

Please link for me the last time someone killed 11 people with a shovel.  Let's see if it was before or after the last time someone killed 11 people with a gun.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@ManuelNoriega @DonQuixotic This must some new usage of the word 'unpopular" with which I'm not familiar. It apparently is now synonymous with "widely supported"


grape_crush
grape_crush

 @Fastgirl @grape_crush> In every case there have been warning signs...

So you lock people up because you think they might be planning a murder?

Not that I take your statement "in every case" to be 100% accurate.

anon76
anon76

@Fastgirl

"In every case there have been warning signs that have been ignored by the families, schools, authorities and yes psychatrists because they don't want to get involved."

An honest question is what proportion of the population exhibits such warning signs, and if that is a large number then whether it is even logistically feasible to keep tabs on so many folks.

manlyman
manlyman

Afraid to get involved for fear of stomping on someone's "rights".

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

@grape_crush @Fastgirl In every case there have been warning signs that have been ignored by the families, schools, authorities and yes psychatrists because they don't want to get involved.

anon76
anon76

@Openminded1

"f-uc your stupid links"="Why should I have to defend my opinion with facts?"

anon76
anon76

@Openminded1

Richard Ramirez most certainly used guns.  Speck killed by strangling but used the threat of a gun to hold his victims hostage.  Bundy was never able to kill more than 2 people at once, like the perpetrators of gun massacres routinely do.

But of course the point here is that you have to go back over 40 years for Bundy and Speck.  You don't even have to go back 1 year to get Sandy Hook and the Naval Yard.  Simply put, as crazy as these people might otherwise be, guns enable them to kill far more people than they otherwise would be able to with other implements.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@anon76 @Openminded1 the point moron and f-uc your stupid links, all around the world mental cases kill with all types of wepons a gun is just easyier to use granted but it was not the gun it was the mental state of the nut case. he wanted to kill and that was the point gun or no gun he would have killed. richard ramerez in la killed never using a gun, ted bundy never used a gun, richard speck killed 8 nurses never used a gun many more have killed never using a gun .

Openminded1
Openminded1

@DonQuixotic @Openminded1 @Perfectarc a gun is a tool of choice do to its ease, but the point dummy is a man set on killing because he has mental issues or a woman for that fact will kill. most of charlie manson kills were not shot they were knifed.