The U.S Navy veteran who authorities say killed 12 people during a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard Monday was apparently denied the purchase of an AR-15 assault rifle in Virginia last week, thanks to a law that prohibits the sale of such weapons to out-of-state buyers, The New York Times reports.
Aaron Alexis, 34, instead bought a 870 Remington pump shotgun, officials told the Times, at a gun dealer in Lorton, Virginia. Alexis is thought to have owned a concealed weapons permit in Texas, where he lived until recently. Twice in the last decade—once in Seattle, and once in Fort Worth—Alexis was arrested for incidents involving guns, though in neither case was he charged. Alexis was killed by police to end the two-hour massacre.
Alexis “had been treated multiple times for psychological issues, including sleep deprivation, anger and paranoia”, NBC News reported. In recent weeks he had been “hearing voices” and was treated by the VA, the AP reported. But he had not been declared mentally unfit by the Navy, a designation which would have led him to lose the security clearance he used to access the Navy Yard.
Congressional efforts launched in the wake of the Newtown shootings to beef up the system of background checks to make it harder for mentally ill people, as well as criminals, to get guns foundered earlier this year amid opposition from gun-rights groups. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Monday the debate over gun control should be revived in response to the Navy Yard shootings.
Reports over the last 24 hours make it possible to begin tracing the path that led Alexis to Monday’s rampage. A New York native whose parents live in Brooklyn, Alexis appears to have been a study in contrasts. He helped out at a Buddhist temple in Fort Worth, taught himself Thai, and practiced meditation, people who knew him said. But he also was said to be “obsessed” with violent video games, drank prodigiously, and, according to a friend with whom he lived for much of the past three years “had a gun at all times.” Alexis, an African-American, also had complained that he was a victim of racial discrimination.
After living in Manhattan and Queens from the late 1990s through 2002, Alexis was in Seattle in 2004 when his first known brush with the law occurred. Police said he used a Glock pistol to fire three shots into the tires of a Honda Accord parked by construction workers in the driveway next to his house. Alexis was not charged in the incident, apparently because of lost paperwork.
One of the construction workers told police he thought Alexis had been angry about parking problems. Alexis said the men had “mocked” and “disrespected” him, triggering “a blackout fueled by anger.” Alexis’ father, Algernon Alexis, told cops at the time that his son had anger management problems that he believed were caused by PTSD after having helped in rescue efforts in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Three years later, Alexis enlisted in the Navy. He spent most of the next four years assigned to a logistics team at the Naval Air Station in Fort Worth. During that period, Alexis was awarded a National Defense Service Medal and a Global War on Terrorism Service medal—decorations said to be given for relatively minor distinctions.
There was another brush with the law in 2008, when Alexis spent two nights in jail after being arrested on a disorderly conduct charge in De Kalb County, Ga.
Then in 2010, Alexis’ upstairs neighbor called police after a shot was fired through her floor and into her ceiling. The neighbor told police the two had feuded over Alexis’ complaints about noise. According to the police report, the neighbor was “terrified of Aaron and feels that this was done intentionally.” But Alexis said he had been trying to clean his gun while cooking, and it had accidentally discharged. Police have said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Alexis.
A few weeks later, Alexis was evicted from the apartment. And in January 2011, he was discharged from the Navy. A Navy official told The Washington Post that the Fort Worth shooting incident contributed to his discharge, along with a “pattern of misconduct.”
At that point, Alexis went to live, rent-free, with Oui Suthamtewakul, the owner of a Thai restaurant in White Settlement, Texas, who he had met through a Buddhist temple. Suthamtewakul said Alexis helped out at the restaurant, and described him as chatty. “He always hit on girls” at the restaurant, Suthamtewakul said.
Another Thai immigrant, Srisan Somsak, who rented a room to Alexis described him as “a good boy.”
But Alexis’ anger, and his interest in guns, don’t appear to have gone away. In summer 2012, Suthamtewakul said, Alexis fired a bullet through the wall of his friend’s room. “You’re gonna kill me,” Suthamtewakul said he told Alexis, who apologized and said it was an accident.
Somsak told the Post that Alexis had once told him he quit his government job because, “somebody doesn’t like me.”
And Suthamtewakul’s wife, Kristi, told NBC News that after returning from a work trip to Japan, Alexis appeared to have changed, complaining that he was slighted as a veteran.
“He had a lot of frustrations with the government,” she said, adding: ”He felt a lot of discrimination, racism from white people especially.”
Kristi Suthamewakul also told The Dallas Morning News that Alexis “had expressed frustration with the government for not paying him money he believed he was owed,” and that he wanted to leave America.
Instead, Alexis headed to the seat of the government itself. About a month ago, he moved to the Washington D.C. area after being hired by a subcontractor to Hewlett-Packard to work on equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet network. Alexis was scheduled to start work at the Navy Yard this month, Hewlett-Packard said. It was that job that gave Alexis access to the Navy Yard, though police have said he shot his way into the building.
Police in Newport, Rhode Island have told NBC News that on August 7, they were called to a Marriott Hotel where Alexis was staying while working as a Navy contractor. They said he tried to file a harassment report against two black men and a black woman, claiming they had been following him after an argument at the airport. He also said he was hearing voices in the closet of his hotel room. Alexis told them he was fine both emotionally and physically.