News Column

Washington Navy Yard Shooter Had Volatile History

September 17, 2013

Theresa Vargas, Steve Hendrix and Marc Fisher

The Washington Post


Aaron Alexis lived for a time in a bungalow in the woods near a Buddhist temple in Fort Worth, Texas, where he occasionally joined Thai immigrants in meditation. Alexis died Monday in a gun battle with police in a building at the Washington Navy Yard after he killed at least 12 people.

In between, the man named as the shooter in Monday's mass murder at Navy Yard Building 197 was discharged from the Navy Reserve, arrested for shooting a bullet into his downstairs neighbor's apartment and then asked to leave his Fort Worth apartment.

A Navy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Alexis was discharged in January 2011 for "a pattern of misconduct" and that the 2010 gun incident in Texas played a role in his departure.

Another Navy official said Alexis was given a "general discharge," a classification often used to designate a blemished record of performance. In some cases, a general discharge can make it difficult to land a civilian job.

Alexis, 34, arrived in Washington about four months ago, friends said. He had worked recently for a defense contractor called The Experts, which is a subcontractor on an HP Enterprise Services contract to work on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet network, according to Hewlett-Packard spokesman Michael Thacker.

Officials at The Experts did not immediately reply to phone messages. It was unclear whether Alexis was still employed by that subcontractor, or whether his work had brought him to the Navy Yard.

Investigators Monday night were examining how Alexis got into the Navy Yard, and whether he had used the identification card of a former Navy petty officer that was found near Alexis' body after police killed him.

Those who knew Alexis in recent years describe him as a "sweet and intelligent guy" (a regular customer at the Thai restaurant where he worked as a waiter) and as "a good boy" (his landlord), but also as someone who was "very aggressive," someone who seemed like he might one day kill himself (a lay worker at the Buddhist temple where Alexis worshipped).

In 2004, Alexis was arrested in Seattle after he fired three shots from a Glock pistol into the tires of a Honda Accord that two construction workers had parked in a driveway adjacent to Alexis' house.

Alexis' father told Seattle detectives then that his son "had experienced anger management problems that the family believed was associated with PTSD," or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the police report. The father said Alexis "was an active participant in rescue attempts of Sept. 11, 2001."

Alexis' own explanation for his behavior that day: the construction workers had "mocked" and "disrespected" him and then he'd had "a blackout fueled by anger."

Alexis was not charged in the Seattle incident.

More recently, Alexis struck those who crossed his path as a man of sharp contrasts. He studied the Thai language, visited Thailand for a month, was studying for an online degree in aeronautical engineering and seemed to enjoy conversing with customers, according to friends, customers and fellow worshippers. But some of those same people said Alexis had an aggressive streak, one that caused them to keep their distance and avoid personal questions.

Alexis grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his mother, Sarah, and father, Anthony Alexis, according to his aunt Helen Weeks.

"We haven't seen him for years," Weeks said in a phone interview. "I know he was in the military. He served abroad. I think he was doing some kind of computer work."

Alexis spent nearly four years in the Navy as a full-time reservist from May 2007 until he was discharged in January 2011, according to a summary of personnel records released by the Navy. It did not appear he had ever served in Hampton Roads.

He achieved his final rank of petty officer third class in December 2009.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Alexis worked as a defense contractor after his discharge. A deleted LinkedIn page under Alexis' name listed SinglePoint Technologies, a Richmond, Va., firm, as his employer; the company did not return a call seeking comment.

Alexis spent the bulk of his service time - from 2008 to 2011 - assigned to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 46 at Fort Worth Naval Air Station in Texas, records show. He was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal - two awards of minor distinction.

In Fort Worth, Alexis lived for a time in a gated townhouse community called Orion at Oak Hill. In September 2010, police were called to apartment 2023 after Alexis' downstairs neighbor complained that Alexis had fired a bullet through his floor and into her ceiling.

The woman told police that she'd had occasion to call them about Alexis several times for being too loud, but that nothing had been done. The woman said Alexis had confronted her a few days earlier in the complex's parking lot, where he complained that she had been making too much noise.

The woman told police that "she is terrified of Aaron and feels that this was done intentionally," the police report said.

Police made three attempts to contact Alexis by knocking on his door, but he didn't respond. Only after police called in firefighters to force entry into his apartment did Alexis emerge. Alexis then told police that he had been cleaning his gun while he was cooking and his hands had become greasy and the weapon discharged by accident, according to the police report.

"He told me that he began to take the gun apart when his hands slipped and pulled the trigger, discharging a round into the ceiling," the officer wrote.

Alexis was arrested for improper discharge of a firearm, but a spokesman for the county district attorney's office said no charges were brought.

A couple of weeks later, the apartment complex began eviction proceedings against Alexis, according to county court records.

Soon after that, Alexis rented the two-bedroom white bungalow behind the Wat Busayadhammavanaram Meditation Center for $600 a month, and never missed a payment, said Srisan Somsak, 57, a Thai immigrant.

"He's a good boy," Somsak said.

Relatives contacted by reporters were stunned to hear that he was involved in the Washington shootings. "I'd be shocked if it was him, but I don't know," said Weeks, his aunt, her voice trailing off.

If you know something

FBI Assistant Director Valerie Parlave asked the public to call 1- 800-CALL-FBI with details about Alexis: "No piece of information is too small."

(c) 2013 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

Original headline: Ex-reservist had a volatile history

Source: (c) 2013 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters