DC Navy Yard Shooter Lied His Way into a Clean Bill of Mental Health

Weeks before Aaron Alexis shot and killed 12 people in the D.C. Navy Yard last year, a doctor concluded that he had no mental health issues. 

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Weeks before Aaron Alexis shot and killed 12 people in the D.C. Navy Yard last year, a doctor concluded that he had no mental health issues. "No problem there,” one medical professional wrote of his employment at the Defense Department. That's despite a record of disturbing incidents involving Alexis that broadcast a different picture.

The AP obtained Alexis's confidential medical records, and note that essentially, Alexis lied and lied to Veterans Affairs doctors about his mental health until he got a clean bill. Three weeks before the September 16th shootings, Alexis denied having thoughts of murder or suicide. The records quoted by the AP focus on a series of evaluations following an August 7th incident, during which Alexis told police he was being harassed by voices, that someone was using a microwave ray machine to keep him from getting any sleep. This is a claim he repeated in a note left for law enforcement officials following the shooting: "Ultra-low frequency attack is what I've been subject to for the last 3 months, and to be perfectly honest that is what has driven me to this," he wrote.

On August 23rd, Alexis saw a VA emergency room doctor after complaining, again, of not being able to sleep. A nurse wrote that Alexis "denies any pain except discomfort rt (right) temple." Here's what the doctor noted:

“Speech and thoughts clear and focused. Denies flashbacks. Denies recent stress. Denies drugs, cocaine, heroin, caffeine product, depression, anxiety, chest pain, sob (shortness of breath), nightmares. He denies taking nap during the day. Denies SI (suicidal ideation) or HI (homicidal ideation)...He works in the Defense Department, no problem there." 

Alexis again visited a VA medical facility on August 28, for what the doctor wrote was an "unremarkable" examination. The doctor added, "“Patient presents to ER with c/o (case of) awakening each morning about 4 a.m. like clockwork and he cannot figure out why this is happening.”

So clearly, Alexis's denials ended up steering VA doctors off of the trail of the apparently deeper mental health issues that even the shooter himself blamed for the massacre. The next question is whether the VA is at fault here. That's harder to answer. At least one of the Navy Yard shooting victims' families is suing the government for alleged negligence, claiming that the VA had ample opportunity to spot red flags in the weeks and months before the shooting. But VA doctors are not law enforcement officials, and the AP notes that there are limitations to the sort of investigation a medical professional can do, in the face of the denials Alexis gave. "It would be illegal to contact others, such as family, friends or an employer to search for clues," the AP explains.

And then there's the question of how Alexis kept his Department of Defense clearance in the first place. In addition to his history of mental episodes, Alexis had two prior gun-related incidents on his record, in 2004 and in 2010. He purchased a weapon two days before the Navy Yard shootings

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