Washington’s historic and normally bustling Navy Yard will remain closed to all but “essential” employees again on Wednesday as authorities piece together what triggered a military contractor to fatally shoot 12 people there.
The investigation continues as the families of Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims visit Capitol Hill to mark nine months since the tragic mass shooting and call on Congress to act on legislation to reduce gun violence now.
While no specific reason has been given on why Aaron Alexis went on a murderous rampage at Navy Yard, his overall mindset came into sharper focus on Tuesday — including a history of trouble in the Navy and psychological issues.
That past includes a Newport, Rhode Island, incident on August 7.
Describing himself as a Navy contractor, Alexis told police he believed an individual he’d gotten into a verbal spat with had sent three “people to follow him and keep him awake by talking to him and sending vibrations into his body”, according to a police report.
Alexis said he hadn’t seen any of these people, but insisted they’d followed him between three hotels in the area — the last being a Marriott, where police investigating a harassment complaint encountered him.
There, Alexis told authorities the unseen individuals continued speaking to him through walls and the floor. He said they used “some sort of microwave machine” to send vibrations into his body to keep him awake.
He added, according to the police report, that “he does not have a history of mental illness in his family and that he never had any sort of mental episode”. Nonetheless, a police sergeant alerted authorities at Naval Station Newport to Alexis “hearing voices”.
Reached Tuesday, officials at the base referred CNN to the FBI, which declined to comment.
It’s not known if this incident was related to Monday’s shooting spree. Still, it and other details offer insights into the shooter and raised questions about whether he could have been stopped.
The Navy moved to discharge Alexis in 2010 due to what two Navy officials described as a “pattern of misconduct”, though he ended up leaving the next year on a “general discharge”, but maintained his security clearance.
There were also run-ins with police, beyond the Newport incident. In Seattle, for instance, Alexis was arrested in 2004 for shooting out the tires of another man’s vehicle in what he later told detectives was an anger-fueled “blackout”.
DeKalb County, Georgia, authorities said on Tuesday they arrested Alexis in 2008 on a disorderly conduct charge.
And recently, Alexis contacted two Veterans Affairs hospitals around the capital, law enforcement sources said. Two indicated he sought help for sleep-related issues, with another source saying Alexis was “having problems sleeping” and “hearing voices”.
Whatever his past, Alexis was a military contractor and was in the Navy’s Ready Reserve — a designation for former military members who don’t actively serve in a Reserve unit, but who can be called up if the military needs them.
Moreover, he had legitimate credentials to enter the base, Valerie Parlave, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, said on Tuesday. He also had a secret security clearance valid through 2017, even after leaving the service full-time in 2011, Navy spokesman John Kirby said.
Should he have? Did the military miss opportunities to prevent Alexis from attacking? And how was he able to get a shotgun onto the naval base?
There are no definitive answers.
Federal law enforcement sources say authorities recovered three guns from the scene: a shotgun and two handguns.
Two days before the shooting, Alexis spent “a couple hours” shooting at Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in northern Virginia before paying US$419 for a Remington 870 shotgun and a small amount of ammunition, said the store’s attorney, J Michael Slocum.
He was approved after a federal background check, he said.
The two handguns, sources say, may have been taken from guards at the naval base. But how Alexis brought the shotgun in, though, remains an open question, with Washington Mayor Vincent Gray speculating he may have concealed it.
Parlave said Alexis is believed to be solely responsible for Monday’s bloodshed that, in addition to those killed, left eight wounded.
A New York City native — where both his parents, now divorced, still live — Alexis worked between 2001 and 2003 at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. His supervisor there, Barry Williams, said he never would have expected such a violent outburst, though Alexis would get easily frustrated over minor things and hold grudges.
Years later, Alexis joined the Navy as a petty officer working on electrical systems.
But his four years in service weren’t all smooth. He was written up for eight instances of misconduct on duty, a US defence official said, including cases of insubordination, disorderly conduct, unauthorised absences and at least one instance of intoxication.
“He wasn’t a stellar sailor, we know that,” said Rear Adm. Kirby, adding that the misconduct cases were all “relatively minor”.
“… None of those (offences) give you an indication he was capable of this sort of brutal, vicious violence.”
Melinda Downs described Alexis as “very intellectual” and of “sound” mind — saying if he did hear voices, “he hid it very well”.
“It is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” she said. “Who was this guy?” —