Motive for shooting unclear as gunman’s past emerges
Investigators find a history of mental illness, anger and brushes with the law
An armed guard stands outside the Washington DC naval facility following Monday’s shootings. Aaron Alexis’s job loss is being considered as a triggering factor for his killings. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The latest US mass shooting that killed 12 and wounded eight people at a Washington DC naval facility has again raised questions about gun controls and background checks on troubled individuals with a history of disturbances.
As Washington police named the victims of Monday’s gun rampage, attention shifted to the motives of suspected gunman Aaron Alexis who was killed by police after “multiple” gun fights and how his criminal record and violent behaviour did not sound alarm bells when approving his official security clearance at a military facility.
A clearer picture is emerging of the 34-year-old military contractor’s background, as investigators continued to piece together his movements before he legally entered the Navy Yard with a valid identification badge as a defence contractor employees and fired at workers in a cafeteria.
Investigators are still trying to determine a motive for Alexis’s killing spree, the worst loss of life in a single incident in the Washington DC area since the September 11th, 2001, attack on the Pentagon and the deadliest mass shooting at a US military facility since the Fort Hood killings in Texas in 2009.
Alexis was portrayed by friends and in previous police reports as a troubled individual with mental health problems and a gun-carrying, heavy drinker who had several brushes with the law.
Police records show that Alexis was arrested in 2004 in Seattle for allegedly shooting the tyres on a car in what he described as a “black-out fuelled by anger”. Alexis’s father later told police that his son had “experienced anger-management problems” that his family believed were associated with post-traumatic stress disorder from his participation in rescue attempts on September 11th.
In 2008, Alexis was cited by police for disorderly conduct in an Atlanta nightclub where he damaged furnishings inside and shouted profanities outside.
Two years later, he was arrested in Texas for shooting his gun into an upstairs neighbour’s apartment. He escaped prosecution, claiming the firearm went off as he was cleaning it. This run-in with police appears to have led to the US navy to seek his discharge as a navy reservist on January 31st, 2011.
The navy said this week, correcting an earlier assertion, that he applied on his own to leave the navy reserve in early 2011 and this request for a honourable discharge was granted after serving four years.
A navy official quoted in US media said Alexis had shown “a pattern of misconduct” while in service.
In more recent times, Alexis had been working as a civilian contractor for a subcontracting business of computer company Hewlett-Packard called “The Experts”. This would have given him the legal identification and security clearance to enter military facilities such as the Washington Navy Yard.