Gunman in Navy Yard shooting was in Navy Reserves
The Associated Press
Aaron Alexis seems a study in contradictions: a former Navy reservist, a Defense Department contractor, a convert to Buddhism who was taking an online course in aeronautics. But he also had flashes of temper that led to run-ins with police over shootings in Fort Worth, Texas, and Seattle.
A profile began to emerge Monday of the man authorities identified as the gunman in a mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., that left 13 people dead, including the 34-year-old man. While some neighbors and acquaintances described him as "nice," his father once told detectives in Seattle that his son had anger management problems related to post-traumatic stress brought on by the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
At the time of the shootings, he worked for The Experts, a subcontractor on an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet network.
His life over the past decade has been checkered.
Alexis lived in Seattle in 2004 and 2005, according to public documents. In 2004, Seattle police said Alexis was arrested for shooting out the tires of another man's vehicle in what he later described to detectives as an anger-fueled "blackout." According to an account on the department's website, two construction workers had parked their Honda Accord in the driveway of their worksite, next to a home where Alexis was staying. The workers reported seeing a man, later identified by police as Alexis, walk out of the home next to their worksite, pull a gun from his waistband and fire three shots into the rear tires of their Honda before he walked slowly back to his home.
When detectives interviewed workers at the construction site, they told police Alexis had stared at construction workers at the job site daily for several weeks prior to the shooting. The owner of the construction business told police he believed Alexis was angry over the parking situation around the site.
Police eventually arrested Alexis, searched his home, found a gun and ammunition in his room, and booked him into the King County Jail for malicious mischief.
According to the police account, Alexis told detectives he perceived he had been "mocked" by construction workers the morning of the incident. Alexis also claimed he had an anger-fueled "blackout," and could not remember firing his gun at the Honda until an hour after the incident.
Alexis also told police he was present during "the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001" and described "how those events had disturbed him."
Then, on May 5, 2007, he enlisted in the Navy reserves, serving through 2011, according to Navy spokeswoman Lt. Megan Shutka.
Shutka said he received the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal during his stint in the reserves. Both are medals issued to large numbers of service members who served abroad and in the United States since the 9/11 attacks. Alexis' last assignment was as aviation electricians mate 3rd class at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Shutka said.
It was while he was still in the reserves that a neighbor in Fort Worth reported she had been nearly struck by a bullet shot from his downstairs apartment.
In September 2010, Fort Worth police questioned Alexis about the neighbor's report; he admitted to firing his weapon but said he was cleaning his gun when it accidentally discharged. He said he didn't call the police because he didn't think the bullet went through to the other apartment. The neighbor told police she was scared of Alexis and felt he fired intentionally because he had complained about her making too much noise.
Alexis was arrested on suspicion of discharging a firearm within city limits but Tarrant County district attorney's spokeswoman Melody McDonald Lanier said the case was not pursued after it was determined the gun discharged accidentally.
After leaving the reserves, Alexis worked as a waiter and delivery driver at the Happy Bowl Thai restaurant in White Settlement, a suburb of Fort Worth, according to Afton Bradley, a former co-worker. The two overlapped for about eight months before Alexis left in May, Bradley said.
Having traveled to Thailand, Alexis learned some Thai and could speak to Thai customers in their native language.
"He was a very nice person," Bradley said in a phone interview. "It kind of blows my mind away. I wouldn't think anything bad at all."
A former acquaintance, Oui Suthametewakul, said Alexis lived with him and his wife from August 2012 to May 2013 in Fort Worth, but that they had to part ways because he wasn't paying his bills. Alexis was a "nice guy," Suthametewakul said, though he sometimes carried a gun and would frequently complain about being the victim of discrimination.
Suthametewakul said Alexis had converted to Buddhism and prayed at a local Buddhist temple.
"We are all shocked. We are nonviolent. Aaron was a very good practitioner of Buddhism. He could chant better than even some of the Thai congregants," said Ty Thairintr, a congregant at Wat Budsaya, a Buddhist temple in Fort Worth.
Thairintr said Alexis told him he was upset with the Navy because "he thought he never got a promotion because of the color of his skin. He hated his commander."
As Thairintr and others at the temple understood, Alexis took a job as a contractor and he indicated to them he was going to go to Virginia. He last saw him five weeks ago.
"He was a very devoted Buddhist. There was no tell-tale sign of this behavior," Thairintr said.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which offers online courses in aviation and aerospace, confirmed that Alexis was enrolled as an online student via its Fort Worth campus, started classes in July 2012 and was pursuing a bachelor's of science in aeronautics.
"We are cooperating fully with investigating officials," the university said.
WASHINGTON — A defense contractor went on a shooting rampage Monday inside a building at the heavily secured Washington Navy Yard, spraying bullets in the hallways and firing from a balcony onto workers in an atrium below. Thirteen people were killed, including the gunman.
Police said the gunman, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis of Texas, used a valid pass to get onto the base before launching the attack, which unfolded about 8:20 a.m. in the heart of the nation's capital, less than four miles from the White House and two miles from the Capitol.
Alexis died after a running gunbattle inside the building with police, investigators said.
"This is a horrific tragedy," Mayor Vincent Gray said.
Investigators said the motive was a mystery. The mayor said there was no indication it was a terrorist attack, but he added that the possibility had not been ruled out.
For much of the day, authorities said they were looking for a possible second attacker who may have been disguised in an olive-drab military-style uniform. But by late Monday night, they said they were convinced the attack was the work of a lone gunman, and the security lockdown around the area was eased.
"We do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside the base today," Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
It was the deadliest shooting at a military installation in the U.S. since Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 in 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas. He was convicted last month and sentenced to death.
President Barack Obama lamented yet another mass shooting in the U.S. that he said took the lives of American "patriots." He promised to make sure "whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible."
The FBI took charge of the investigation.
At the time of the rampage, Alexis was an information technology employee with a company that was a Defense Department subcontractor, authorities said. Valerie Parlave, head of the FBI's field office in Washington, said he had access to the base as a defense contractor.
The dead ranged in age from 46 to 73, according to the mayor. A number of the victims were civilian employees and contractors, rather than active-duty military personnel, the police chief said.
Alexis had been a full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to early 2011, leaving as a petty officer third class, the Navy said. It did not say why he left. He had been an aviation electrician's mate with a unit in Fort Worth, Texas.
A convert to Buddhism who grew up in New York City, Alexis had had run-ins with the law over shooting incidents in 2004 and 2010 in Fort Worth and Seattle and was portrayed in police reports as seething with anger.
Witnesses on Monday described a gunman opening fire from a fourth-floor overlook, aiming down on people on the main floor, which includes a glass-walled cafeteria. Others said a gunman fired at them in a third-floor hallway.
Patricia Ward, a logistics-management specialist, said she was in the cafeteria getting breakfast.
"It was three gunshots straight in a row — pop, pop, pop. Three seconds later, it was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, so it was like about a total of seven gunshots, and we just started running," Ward said.
In addition to those killed, eight people were hurt - three of them shot and wounded, according to the mayor. Those wounded were a police officer and two female civilians, authorities said. They were all expected to survive.
The FBI would not give any details on the gunman's weaponry, but witnesses said the man they saw had a long gun - which can mean a rifle or a shotgun.
The Washington Navy Yard is a sprawling, 41-acre labyrinth of buildings and streets protected by armed guards and metal detectors, and employees have to show their IDs at doors and gates. More than 18,000 people work there.
The rampage took place at Building 197, the headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command, which buys, builds and maintains ships and submarines. About 3,000 people work at headquarters, many of them civilians.
Todd Brundidge, an executive assistant with Navy Sea Systems Command, said he and co-workers encountered a gunman in a long hallway on the third floor. The gunman was wearing all blue, he said.
"He just turned and started firing," Brundidge said.
Terrie Durham, an executive assistant with the same agency, said the gunman fired toward her and Brundidge.
"He aimed high and missed," she said. "He said nothing. As soon as I realized he was shooting, we just said, 'Get out of the building.'"
As emergency vehicles and law enforcement officers flooded streets around the complex, a helicopter hovered, nearby schools were locked down and airplanes at nearby Reagan National Airport were grounded so they would not interfere with law-enforcement choppers.
Security was tightened at other federal buildings. Senate officials shut down their side of the Capitol while authorities searched for the potential second attacker. The House remained open.
In the confusion, police said around midday that they were searching for two men who may have taken part in the attack — one carrying a handgun and wearing a tan Navy-style uniform and a beret, the other armed with a long gun and wearing an olive-green uniform. Police said it was unclear if the men were members of the military.
But as the day wore on, police dropped one person and then the other as suspects.
As tensions eased, Navy Yard employees were gradually being released from the complex, and children were let out of their locked-down schools.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, was at the base at the time the shooting began but was moved unharmed to a nearby military installation.
Anxious relatives and friends of those who work at the complex waited to hear from loved ones.
Tech Sgt. David Reyes, who works at Andrews Air Force Base, said he was waiting to pick up his wife, Dina, who was under lockdown in a building next to where the shooting happened. She sent him a text message.
"They are under lockdown because they just don't know," Reyes said. "They have to check every building in there, and they have to check every room and just, of course, a lot of rooms and a lot of buildings."