Navy Yard Gunman Was Treated by the VA for Mental Illness

Aaron Alexis, the dead gunman identified in the Washington Navy Yard mass shooting, was a former Navy reservist with an apparent history of mental troubles.

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On Monday afternoon, officials identified 34-year-old Aaron Alexis as the deceased gunman in the Washington Navy Yard mass shooting. Alexis, a Navy contractor, lived in Texas until recently. He was killed in a "running gun battle with police" responding to the shooting, according to the AP. As is the pattern with early news gathering following a tragic mass shooting, more and more eyes are now focused on Alexis, in an attempt to understand why the deadly tragedy occurred. And while early reporting on major breaking news events has a history of digging up substantial misinformation, The FBI's public statements, along with their search for more information on the shooter, has provided a pretty good starting point. So here, so far, is the incomplete picture of Alexis:

What we know:

Update (9/17): According the Associated Press, Alexis was treated by the Veterans Administration for "serious mental illness," including paranoia, sleep disorders, and delusions like 'hearing voices.' He was also reported discharged from the Navy Reserves honorably, but after a "pattern of misconduct." He was reportedly cited at least eight times for "misconduct" between 2007 and 2011, for reasons including "insubordination, disorderly conduct and multiple excessive absences from work." Despite his record, he was honorably discharged and then hired back as a private contractor, with his security clearance intact. A soon-to-be-released report from the Pentagon inspector general will show the Navy let access security to its facilities fall by the wayside in an effort to cut costs.

He was discharged from the military in 2011. Alexis was a full-time military reservist from 2007 until 2011. The Navy released a summary of his military records on Monday, which outlines his time there. Here's more from the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman:

Alexis, whose home of record is listed as New York City, was a Navy aviation electrician's mate 3rd class. From February 1 2008 until his detachment from the Navy on January 31 2011, Alexis was assigned to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VR) 46, in Fort Worth, Texas....According to a Navy document, Alexis is not listed as having served overseas, but is listed as receiving the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. 

While his last known residence was Fort Worth, Alexis was born in Queens, NY.

He used to work at a "mom and pop" Thai restaurant in Fort Worth, and attended a Buddhist temple. Two employees at the Fort Worth Star Telegram recalled that a man matching the name and description of the shooter worked at a restaurant in the area they frequented. "I thought Aaron seemed kinda geeky," the paper's columnist said. The restaurant was near a naval reserve base in the city.

Alexis taught himself Thai, according to the Washington Post, and was a regular at a Fort Worth-area Buddhist temple:

At the Wat Busayadhammavanaram Meditation Center, Alexis came to meditate twice a week. But he still seemed so tightly wound that at least one worker there sought to avoid him.

Alexis had a criminal record. In 2010, Aaron Alexis was arrested in Fort Worth on a gun-related misdemeanor for discharging a firearm in city limits. The arrest record from that incident is publicly available. Alexis's upstairs neighbor called the police after a bullet was apparently fired through the floor of her apartment. The report adds:

"She told me that she believed someone had shot a bullet through her apt. She then told me that no one from downstairs had come up to talk to her and she had not gone down. She also told me that her downstairs neighbor ARR (Alexis,Aaron) has called the police several times on her for being loud however the police always said they didn't hear anything and no action was taken. She said that several days ago Aaron confronted her in the parking lot about making too much noise. June told me that she is terrified of Aaron and feels that this was done intentionally." 

The full report is here. Alexis said later that the gun went off while he was in the process of cleaning it. He was not prosecuted.

He was arrested in 2004 as well on another gun-related charge, according to Seattle police. On Monday afternoon, the department posted its report on the incident, during which Alexis shot out the tires of a vehicle in anger. At the end, there's an interesting detail about Alexis's apparent PTSD, connected to the September 11th 2001 attacks:

At about 8 am that morning, two construction workers had parked their 1986 Honda Accord in the driveway of their worksite, next to a home where Alexis was staying in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

The victims 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 two rear tires of their Honda before he walked slowly back to his home north of the construction site...

...When detectives interviewed workers and a manager at the construction site, they told police Alexis had “stared” at construction workers at the job site every day over the last month prior to the shooting. The owner of the construction business told police he believed Alexis was angry over the parking situation around the work site...

...Police then obtained permission to search the home, found a gun and ammunition in Alexis’ room, and booked him into the King County Jail for malicious mischief.

Following his arrest, Alexis told detectives he perceived he had been “mocked” by construction workers the morning of the incident and said they had “disrespected him.” Alexis also claimed he had an anger-fueled “blackout,” and could not remember firing his gun at the victims’ vehicle until an hour after the incident...

...Detectives later spoke with Alexis’ father, who lived in New York at the time, who told police Alexis had anger management problems associated with PTSD, and that Alexis had been an active participant in rescue attempts on September 11th, 2001.

He was a contractor for Hewlett-Packard. This was confirmed by the company itself. They said in a statement to Politico“Aaron Alexis was an employee of a company called 'The Experts,' a subcontractor to an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) network. HP is cooperating fully with law enforcement as requested.” In a late night press conference, authorities indicated that Alexis's contract work provided him with a legitimate access pass to the Navy Yard, which he used to enter the building on Monday. 

What we don't know:

The kind of gun he used. While multiple reports have said that Alexis had an AR-15, the gun of choice for recent mass murderers, this hasn't actually been confirmed. Law enforcement officials told the Post the gunman had a "handgun" and an "assault rifle," or maybe a "shotgun."

Update: on Tuesday, the FBI's Valerie Parlave elaborated on what authorities know about the guns in Alexis's possession:

"In regards to the weapons used by Mr. Alexis, there has been a lot of information circulating in the media over the past day. Once again, we caution against obtaining information from unofficial sources, and we ask that all inquiries be directed to the FBI. At this time, we believe that Mr. Alexis entered Building 197 at the Navy Yard with a shotgun. We do not have any information at this time that he had an AR-15 in his possession. We also believe Mr. Alexis may have gained access to a handgun once inside the facility and after he began shooting.”

Why Rollie Chance's ID was found near Alexis's body. At this point, officials suspect, but don't know, that Alexis used Chance's ID to enter the Navy Yard compound — the Navy is still investigating whether Alexis himself worked as a contractor for the Navy Yard or now, and his exact relationship to the Yard, or to Chance himself, isn't yet known. Chance, a Navy petty officer, was not at the Yard at the time of the shooting. He was incorrectly ID'd by NBC and CBS as the suspect. Those reports were later retracted.

His motivation. As the FBI begins the process of collecting as much as it can on the deceased shooter, the reasons behind the deadly attack are still a mystery. According to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, authorities haven't ruled out anything, including terrorism, even though little suggests an organized extremist attack.

This post on a developing story has been updated with new information. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.