THE gunman who shot and killed 12 people at a US navy base suffered “serious” mental health problems and was dismissed from the service two years ago after at least two arrests for gun-related offences.
Former reservist Aaron Alexis, 34, was also said to be “seething” about a dispute with an employer over his pay for a working trip to Japan, said friends and family.
More details of his background came as the FBI continued its investigation into Monday’s massacre and questions were raised over lax security that allowed Alexis to walk into the Washington navy yard with a shotgun and open fire on military and civilian personnel.
No motive has yet been offered for his shooting spree, which also left eight others in hospital, three wounded, the others with chest pains, and Alexis dead after a gun battle with police. Authorities will now look at his history of mental illness and arrest records, and interview those who knew him.
“No piece of information is too small. We’re looking to learn everything we can about his recent movements, his contacts and associates,” said Valerie Parlave, assistant director of the FBI’s Washington field office.
Alexis, a reservist from 2007 until he was discharged in 2011, heard voices in his head and had recently sought treatment from two veterans’ facilities for mental health problems including paranoia and sleep disorder, said family members.
In 2004, police in Seattle said, Alexis suffered “an anger-fuelled blackout” when he shot the tyres of a vehicle belonging to a construction worker he thought had mocked him.
And in 2010, police in Fort Worth, Texas, arrested him when a neighbour told them Alexis fired a bullet through a ceiling into her upstairs flat because she complained about the noise he was making.
Alexis said the gun went off by accident as he was cleaning it and although the incident was part of “a pattern of misconduct” that led to his dismissal from the navy the following year, it was not considered serious enough for him to be declared mentally unfit. That allowed him to retain security clearance, and get a job on base with a civilian contractor, and let him keep his licence to carry weapons.
Afton Bradley, a colleague at a Thai restaurant in Fort Worth at which Alexis waited tables, described him as “a very nice guy” who converted to Buddhism and spent time in Thailand. But friend Michael Ritrovato said Alexis regularly stayed up all night playing violent video games and was prone to outbursts of anger, and held a grudge because he claimed he had not been paid for a trip to Japan last winter as a consultant.
Another friend Ty Thairintr, said Alexis was angry at the navy. “He believed he had superior abilities to co-workers but didn’t get promoted. He complained about the rank and file not giving him respect,” he said.
The FBI appeared to have ruled out an earlier suggestion that Alexis was armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and now believe he only had a 12-gauge Remington shotgun he purchased in Virginia a week ago. Two handguns found by his body were probably taken from victims, agents believe.
.All 12 people killed were civilian employees, four women and eight men aged 46-73.
Republican congressman Mike Turner blamed defence cuts for lax security. He said: “The navy may have implemented an unproven system to cut costs. I learned that potentially numerous felons may have been able to gain access to installations due to insufficient background checks.”