Navy Yard shooter displayed frequent flashes of anger, had recently sought help for mental illness ~ David Usborne
London, 18 September
The part about Aaron Alexis joining worshippers and chanting prayers at a Buddhist temple near his former home in Fort Worth, Texas, is one thing, but other strands of his life were different: frequent flashes of anger, voices in his head, recent attempts to get help for mental illnesses and multiple run-ins with the law ~ often involving guns.
No one has a certain answer yet as to motive. But the portrait now emerging of the former US navy reservist from Texas who opened fire on Monday inside building 197 at the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 civilian workers and wounding at least 14 more before he was fatally shot by police, was raising a host of troubling questions yesterday. Perhaps most notably: how was it that a man with a record such as his had been given clearance to work here?
Born in New York, the 34-year-old Alexis was said by his family to have been emotionally scarred by his experience in the city at the time of the 9/11 attacks. The first indication of a man with a tendency for anger ~ and reacting sometimes with a squeeze of a trigger ~ came with his arrest in 2004 for shooting out the tyres of a construction worker’s Honda because of a parking dispute. In 2010 he was arrested again for firing a bullet from his flat through the ceiling to his neighbour above because he thought her too noisy. On neither occasion, though, was he prosecuted.
He had become a navy reservist, working as an electrician’s mate, in 2007. His service didn’t go smoothly either. He was only given an honourable discharge in 2011 because the process for giving him a less worthy general discharge became bogged down in bureaucracy. But US officials acknowledged yesterday he had been cited 10 times for misconduct ranging from drunkenness, insubordination and tardiness, to simply not showing up for work.
Then there was word, first from family members, that Alexis had in fact been suffering from mental disorders, such as paranoia and sleeplessness. Unnamed US officials later told the Associated Press that, since last August, Alexis had in fact sought help with his mental condition from two Veterans Health Administration hospitals.
Glimpses of the two sides of Alexis come from colleagues at a Thai restaurant near Fort Worth where he briefly worked as a waiter and delivery boy. It was at that time that he found his interest in Buddhism and attempted to learn Thai. “There was nothing sinister about him,” Kristi Suthamtewakul told the Los Angeles Times. But he seemingly became angry when asked about the navy, saying he had not received benefits he was owed. Ms Kristi’s husband, Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, said he drank too much, always carried a gun and ‘acted childish’.
That no one seemed to have joined the dots of Alexis’s profile was already fuelling controversy and some anger yesterday, including from Thomas Hoshko, the chief executive of the Experts, a company that specialises in computer systems and which had recently employed him. Subcontracting for Hewlett-Packard, the company had assigned Alexis to a job at the Navy Yard just last week. Mr Hoshko says the navy had shared nothing about Alexis’s record with him. “If I can find this out just by doing a Google search, that is sad,” Mr Hoshko lamented. “Anything that suggested criminal problems or mental health issues, that would be a flag. We would not have hired him.”