WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — The deadly attack at the Washington Navy Yard was carried out by Aaron Alexis, one of the military’s own. The 34-year-old was a defense contract employee and former Navy reservist who used a valid pass to get onto the installation and started firing inside a building, killing 12 people before he was slain in a gun battle with police.
The motive for the mass shooting — the deadliest on a military installation in the U.S. since the tragedy at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 — was a mystery, investigators said. But a profile of the lone gunman is coming into focus.
U.S. law enforcement officials are telling The Associated Press that Alexis had been suffering a host of serious mental issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder. He also had been hearing voices in his head, the officials said.
Alexis had been treated since August by the Veterans Administration for his mental problems, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the criminal investigation in the case was continuing. The Navy had not declared him mentally unfit, which would have rescinded a security clearance that Alexis had from his earlier time in the Navy Reserves.
Family members told investigators that Alexis was being treated for his mental issues.
At the time of the rampage, Alexis, 34, was an employee with a “The Experts,” a Hewlett-Packard sanctioned company that was a Defense Department subcontractor on a Navy-Marine Corps computer project, authorities said.
HP released the following statement in wake of the rampage: “We are deeply saddened by today’s tragic events at the Washington Navy Yard. Our thoughts and sympathies are with all those who have been affected. Aaron Alexis was an employee of a company called ‘The Experts,’ a subcontractor to an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the NavyMarine Corps Intranet (NMCI) network. HP is cooperating fully with law enforcement as requested.”
The Experts’ CEO, Thomas Hoshko, said that Alexis had “no personal issues,” and he confirmed that Alexis had been granted a “secret” clearance by the Defense Security Service five years ago.
Alexis’ clearance — lower than “top secret” — doesn’t need to be renewed for 10 years. Still, the company said it hired outside vendors twice to check Alexis’ criminal history.
Said Hoshko: Alexis’ background check “came back clear.”
Valerie Parlave, head of the FBI’s field office in Washington, said Alexis had access to the Navy Yard using a valid pass.
Alexis had been a full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to early 2011, leaving as a petty officer third class, the Navy said.
His bouts of insubordination, disorderly conduct and being absent from work without authorization prompted the Navy to grant him an early — but honorable — discharge in 2011 after nearly four years as a full-time reservist, authorities said.
“He wasn’t a stellar sailor,” Navy spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told CNN. “We know that.”
But he said the offenses weren’t “grievously serious” and the punishments for them are fairly mild. Kirby said there was a proposal to “administratively separate him from the Navy,” with less than an honorable discharge, but Alexis volunteered to leave early and received an honorable discharge.
“Looking at his offenses while he was in the Navy, that the offenses while he was in uniform, uh, none of those give you an indication that he was capable of this sort of brutal, vicious violence,” Kirby said.
A convert to Buddhism who grew up in New York City, Alexis also had run-ins with the law over shooting incidents in 2004 and 2010 in Fort Worth and Seattle and was portrayed in police reports as seething with anger. He was not prosecuted in either case, however.
“I wouldn’t call him nice, but he seemed harmless, if really awkward,” said Gene Demby of Philadelphia, who said he dated one of Alexis’ younger sisters in the early 2000s. “He was insecure. He was like a barbershop conspiracy theorist, the kind of guy who believes he’s smarter than everyone else. He also was kind of like perpetually aggrieved, but not megalomaniacal or delusional.”
Monday’s onslaught at a single building at the highly secure Navy Yard unfolded about 8:20 a.m. in the heart of the nation’s capital, less than four miles from the White House and two miles from the Capitol.
It put all of Washington on edge. Mayor Vincent Gray said there was no indication it was a terrorist attack, but he added that the possibility had not been ruled out.
“This is a horrific tragedy,” he said.
For much of the day, authorities said they were looking for a possible second attacker who may have been disguised in an olive-drab military-style uniform. But by late Monday night, they said they were convinced the shooting was the work of a lone gunman, and the lockdown around the area was eased.
“We do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside the base today,” Washington police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
Witnesses on Monday described a gunman opening fire from a fourth-floor overlook, aiming down on people on the main floor, which includes a glass-walled cafeteria. Others said a gunman fired at them in a third-floor hallway.
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