The horrifying mass shooting in Washington, D.C. yesterday was the work of 34-year-old Navy reservist Aaron Alexis. Law enforcement has identified the man, who died in a shootout with police, as the deranged gunman who killed 13 people and injured 14 when he stormed the Navy Yard and opened fire. Alexis was reportedly carrying at least three guns, including an AK-15 assault rifle, which he bought legally, despite having a checkered past that included more than one run-in with the law. A picture is now emerging of the man who is presently the sole suspect in one of the largest mass shootings in the U.S. In some ways, he is the cliche of what we've come to know about men who perpetrate these kinds of crimes. In others, he is vastly different.
The background of Alexis is slowly being pieced together by the media and the people who knew him. Some of these are no doubt true, others will probably be disproved in the future. But here are some key points to Alexis' character and history:
- Alexis had recently been hired as a technician for a subcontractor working on the Navy's computer network. While reports say he would have soon been issued his own ID and had access to the Navy Yard, he used the ID of a retired Navy officer to gain access to the building.
- He was carrying three guns, an assault weapon, a semi-automatic pistol, and a shotgun. It's unclear how he was able to carry three guns, so law enforcement suspect he may have taken one or more from security personnel after he shot them.
- He was reportedly a heavy drinker who liked to play violent video games.
- He was reportedly a practicing Buddhist, who meditated and attended Buddhist services. Said a fellow congregant: "He was a very devoted Buddhist. There was no tell-tale sign of this behavior."
- He was reportedly being treated for mental illness since August by the Veterans Administration and had begun "hearing voices."
- He once worked for a company that was subcontracted to Hewlett-Packard. Some reports say he was fired from this company.
- The Navy discharged him in 2011 for "misconduct." He had been there since 2007 and complained to friends that he was a victim of "racial discrimination." Before his dismissal, he was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
- He was arrested in Seattle in 2004 for shooting out the tires of someone's car. He reportedly said he thought the person was "mocking him" and described the incident as a rage-filled "blackout". He was also arrested 2008 for disorderly conduct and 2010 for firing through a neighbor's floor, but charges were never filed.
- He was reportedly not close to his family. His brother-in-law, Anthony Little, who is married to his sister Naomi, said he'd never even met him. His mother lives in Brooklyn. Police are currently guarding her home. Little said: "The family are distraught ... they're shocked."
- Until May, Alexis worked at a Thai restaurant, Happy Bowl Thai, in Fort Worth, Texas, before he left to start the government contracting job. Customers described him as polite and always "smiling and friendly."
- At various times, he claimed he was traumatized by the terrorist attacks of September 11 and even told some people he had helped with the recovery effort.
The picture that emerges is one of a man with many contrasts -- a Buddhist who loved to meditate, but yet who played violent video games and carried guns. A smiling and happy man, yet one prone to occasional fits of rage so violent that he would shoot out a stranger's tires. Someone who couldn't seem to keep a job, had mental illness problems, and had a police record, yet somehow gained "secret clearance" to a government building. Someone who may have had mental illness and schizophrenia, but who was skilled enough to get a job as a computer technician for the government.
A motive has still not been established. And there's no guarantee one will be.
Is he the type of person you expected?
Update: While initial reports said Alexis was carrying an AK-15 semiautomatic rifle, later reports are saying that is untrue, and that he was found with a shotgun and two handguns. It's believed he took one or two of those from guards. He did, however, reportedly rent an AK-15, but had returned it shortly before the killings. A friend of his told CNN: "He was ... knowledgeable with military rifles and handguns. At least he led us to believe he was. But nobody ever had the idea that he would use them in a derogatory way."
Image via Fort Worth Police Dept.