Despite arrests and evidence of mental illness, a Navy veteran had ready access to a secured military facility that allowed him to randomly kill 12 people.


WASHINGTON – A gunman who had been discharged by the Navy in 2011 after what an official described as a “pattern of misconduct” staged a two-hour rampage Monday at the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 people and injuring eight before being shot to death by law enforcement officials.

Aaron Alexis

Aaron Alexis

Officials identified the man as Aaron Alexis, 34, a Navy veteran who had recently moved to three different hotels one night to escape voices and “some sort of microwave machine” that kept him from falling asleep. Alexis collected $395 per month in disabled vet’s benefits while working with a Florida-based Navy contractor.

Provoking terror
Alexis’s arrival on the base shortly before 8:15 a.m. Monday morning set off hours of terror and mayhem.

More than 3,000 workers were locked down in their offices while police officers, Navy security guards and FBI agents fought a running gun battle with the shooter, who was armed with a shotgun with the phrases “Better off this way” and “my ELF weapon” carved into it. It was hidden in his car, which was not subject to search because of his security clearance.

Alexis used the shotgun and a handgun taken from a security guard to shoot his way through two floors of the headquarters building of the Naval Sea Systems Command before being shot dead by police.

The dead ranged in age from 46 to 73. All were civilian Navy employees or contractors.

Years of problems
Alexis, a New York City native who had recently moved to Washington from Fort Worth, Texas, had a record that included at least two arrests in the last decade involving firearms.

Law enforcement personnel responded to an attack on office workers at the Washington Navy Yard Monday morning in which Aaron Alexis shot 12 people to death. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/ABACA PRESS/MCT; FORT WORTH POLICE DEPARTMENT  VIA FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM/MCT)

Law enforcement personnel responded to an attack on office workers at the Washington Navy Yard Monday morning in which Aaron Alexis shot 12 people to death.

One of the previous incidents occurred in 2010 in Fort Worth, when Alexis shot through the ceiling of his apartment. Tarrant County prosecutors said Monday they had not prosecuted the case after Alexis told them the gun had discharged accidentally while he was cleaning it.

In the other case, Seattle police arrested Alexis in 2004 after he purportedly shot out the tires of another man’s vehicle in what he later described to detectives as an anger-fueled “blackout.” Detectives spoke with Alexis’ father, who, according to the police department blog, told police Alexis had “anger management problems.”

A Navy official said that Alexis, who had served for four years as an aviation electrician’s mate, had multiple disciplinary infractions before his discharge in January 2011. But the incidents were not serious enough to prevent him from getting a job as an information technology worker on a Navy contract that involved equipment used by the Marine Corps Intranet network.

‘Not full disclosure’
The head of the company that Alexis worked for as a government contractor told The Washington Post he wouldn’t have hired Alexis if he had known about these issues. He said many contracting firms rely on the military to approve the security clearances of their employees, and he wishes the military had shared more about Alexis’ history.

“None of this was made aware to us or to the company,” Thomas Hoshko, chief executive officer of South Florida-based The Experts, told The Post. “If there’s not full disclosure on this, how do they expect us to make good decisions about who to trust and hire?”

The company did two background checks and checked his security clearance twice, most recently in June. He came back clear except for a minor traffic violation, the company said.

Complex image emerges
Alexis feared people were following and tormenting him, he told police during a business trip to Rhode Island in early August.

He denied then that he had any history of mental illness. Yet that same month, Alexis began receiving treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs for mental problems, including paranoia, hearing voices and a sleep disorder, officials said Tuesday.

That discrepancy is among several contradictions that paint Alexis as a Buddhist convert who quietly struggled with mental illness while repeatedly running into trouble with the military and the law.

Prayed, then partied
Friends say Alexis regularly prayed and meditated at a Buddhist temple in Fort Worth. But his friend, Michael Ritrovato, said Alexis didn’t keep the lifestyle, often drinking to excess and playing violent video games.

“A Buddhist wouldn’t go out and party,” he said. “A Buddhist wouldn’t tell dirty jokes. A Buddhist wouldn’t play those video games.”

Ritrovato said Alexis talked seriously about becoming a Buddhist monk, but backed off when he heard about the requirements, such as celibacy.

Common factors
“He (Alexis) did have some of the common factors that we see in adult mass murderers,” said Kathy Seifert, a Maryland-based psychologist who’s studied mass shooters for more than 30 years.

“He had a history of aggression,” she said, noting the police reports in Fort Worth, in Seattle, and a disorderly conduct charge in DeKalb County, Ga.

Seifert said common characteristics of the mass killers she’d studied included aggression, mental health issues, difficulties on the job, difficulty getting along with people, anger issues and emotional outbursts.

Asked what would trigger a killing spree, she said, “There is often a stressor that person is not able to manage.”

‘Social reject’
“The pattern is a person who is a social reject, who failed at intimacy and could not connect with people,” said Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who’s interviewed many mass killers. The killings, Welner said, are a response to blaming everyone else for the shooters’ problems.

“Destruction is an exaggerated expression of masculinity,” he said. “Mass killing always has a motivation, and the mass killer always wants you to know it.”

Jack Levin, a co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University, said, “Almost every mass killer is motivated to get revenge.

“The more random the massacre, the more likely the killer has serious mental health issues,” said Levin, a psychologist. If Alexis was, as Levin thinks, suffering from serious mental illness, that would be consistent with mass killers who try to kill as many people as possible.

“They are seeking revenge against all mankind,” Levin said. “In this case, everyone in the Navy.”

As for reports that Alexis was an avid player of violent video games, Welner and Levin said the games served to “desensitize” people to death.

“This is part of the training,” said Welner, who cites the killings of 77 people in Norway in 2011 by a video game-obsessed shooter. “It enables them to detach from the victims. It dehumanizes them in violence.”

Mother apologizes
On Wednesday, Cathleen Alexis, joined by two bishops from the Brooklyn Clergy-New York Police Department Task Force, choked up as she read a statement in the living room of her Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone. She did not want her face to be seen.

“Our son, Aaron Alexis, has murdered 12 people and wounded several others,” Alexis said 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 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.”

David Cloud, Richard Serrano and Richard Simon, Tribune Washington Bureau; Sarah Mervosh, Tristan Hallman and Jeff Mosier/The Dallas Morning News; Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau; and Chau Lam/Newsday (MCT) all contributed to this report.

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