A file picture of Aaron Alexis. (Reuters)
Washington, Sept. 17: The navy reservist who killed 12 people in a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday had exhibited signs of mental illness dating back more than a decade, according to a law enforcement official.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, said that the gunman, Aaron Alexis, had been exhibiting symptoms of mental illness since at least his early 20s, before he joined the naval reserve and then went on to be a military contractor.
The official said Alexis has been described by people who knew him as paranoid and delusional.
Alexis was born in Queens in 1979 and was representative of the borough’s diversity. He was African-American, grew up in a part of Queens that was home to South Asians, Hispanics and Orthodox Jews, and embraced all things Thai while living in Fort Worth. He worked as a waiter at a Thai restaurant, studied the language and regularly chanted and meditated at Buddhist temples.
Yesterday, Alexis entered the Navy Yard, a secure military facility near the Capitol, killing at least 12 people before he was fatally shot by the authorities. The police say Alexis, 34, acted alone.
Navy officials said that although he had exhibited a “pattern of misbehaviour” which included insubordination and unauthorised absences, Alexis was given an honourable discharge from the military in January 2011 after he had applied for an early discharge under the navy’s “early enlisted transition programme”.
Those issues had led the navy to consider forcing Alexis out of the service with a less than honourable discharge, a law enforcement official said today.
Investigators searching for a motive for the rampage that shut down a portion of Washington yesterday said people had begun noticing Alexis’s potential mental health problems around the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Alexis’s father has told the authorities that his son had been among the first responders at the World Trade Center and that he believed that Alexis suffered from post-traumatic stress and had difficulty controlling his anger. It was not known whether he was involved in any rescue effort.
But he was a part time clerical worker nearby at the Borough of Manhattan Community College from February 2001 until February 2003, according to college records.
Alexis had been arrested at least twice during the past decade by civilian authorities for weapons violations.
Alexis, according to the report, had been arrested for shooting the right and left rear tyres of another man’s vehicle with a .45-calibre pistol before firing a shot into the air. Alexis described the incident to detectives as an anger-fuelled “blackout”, according to the report.
Alexis had also been arrested in Fort Worth in 2010 for discharging a firearm after an upstairs neighbour said he had confronted her in the parking lot about making too much noise, according to a Fort Worth police report.
In 2008, he had been arrested outside Atlanta for disorderly conduct related to a dispute inside a nightclub, according to a police report from DeKalb County. No weapon was involved in that incident, according to the police.
The mass shooting yesterday led the authorities to lock down part of the nation’s capital shortly after the chaos at the Washington Navy Yard began around 8am (local time).
Civilian employees described a scene of confusion as shots erupted through the hallways of the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, on the banks of the Anacostia river a few kilometres from the White House.