Aaron Alexis: a history of angry acts, seeking help, feeling 'slighted'

Aaron Alexis, the suspected gunman in the Washington Navy Yard mass shooting, was arrested twice for gun violations and was being treated for mental illness. He felt that the Navy didn't respect him, friends say.

The FBI released photos of ex-Navy reservist Aaron Alexis, whom police believe was the gunman in the Washington Navy Yard shooting in Washington on Monday. Alexis was killed after he fired on a police offer.

As authorities investigate how and why the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard occurred, details about Aaron Alexis, the suspected gunman, are emerging that point to a man with a history of angry acts who was seeking help through Buddhism and mental health treatment.

Here are answers to five key questions about Mr. Alexis, given what is known about him so far. 

1. What is Aaron Alexis’s history with the Navy?

Alexis was a full-time reservist in the US Navy from 2007 to 2011. He received a general discharge in January 2011 after exhibiting a “pattern of misconduct,” according to officials, who declined to provide details of his misconduct. 

While he served, Alexis did not have day-to-day contact with the Navy but was in the “ready reserve,” where he would be mobilized if called upon, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told CNN.

After his release from the Navy, Alexis found work as a military subcontractor for The Experts, a group affiliated with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services that served the Navy’s Internet system, according to USA Today. Through his work, Alexis had security clearance to access the navy yard.

2. What is his prior arrest record? Is there a Sept. 11 connection?

Before his discharge from the Navy, Alexis was arrested at least twice for weapons violations. In 2004, he was arrested in Seattle for shooting the right and left rear tires of another man’s car and firing a shot into the air with a .45-caliber pistol.

According to the Seattle police report, Alexis “stated that he perceived the victim had mocked him earlier that morning after he discovered his own vehicle had been tampered with.”

That led to what Alexis "described as a ‘black-out,’ fueled by anger," the report says. “He said he didn’t remember pulling the trigger of his firearm until about one-hour later.” 

Alexis also told police he was in New York City on 9/11 and was disturbed by the events. The Seattle police report notes that Alexis’s father, living in New York at the time of his son’s arrest, called the police detective to say “that his son had experienced anger management problems that the family believed associated with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). He confirmed that his son was an active participant in rescue attempts of September 11th, 2001.” 

Alexis, born in the borough of Queens in 1979, would have been 22 on 9/11. Kristi Suthamtewakul, a friend from Fort Worth, Texas, told the Los Angeles Times that Alexis had “expressed anger about Sept. 11 to her, but that he was angry at terrorists."

In the end, Seattle authorities didn't pursue the matter, because the police report never reached the city attorney. "We are not able to review for possible charges because the police report didn't make it to our office," spokeswoman Kimberly Mills told the Monitor.

Typically, this is a case that would have prompted charges. "It's very likely it would have been charged," she says. "I don't know where the disconnect was," she says, adding that the police report has a notation on it that it was sent to the Seattle municipal court. Police can file traffic tickets directly with the court, but they can't file misdemeanor charges, like this one, to the court directly, she said. They are supposed to send them to the city attorney first.

Alexis was also arrested in 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas, for discharging a gun in his apartment. The bullet went through the floor and ceiling of his upstairs neighbor, who told police she felt threatened by Alexis, according to the Fort Worth police report viewed by The New York Times. Alexis had confronted this neighbor in the parking lot about making too much noise, she told police.

The Forth Worth Police Department did not press charges after Alexis told them the gun accidently discharged as he was cleaning it while cooking. The county criminal district attorney issued a statement Monday, saying “it was determined that the elements constituting recklessness under Texas law were not present and a case was not filed.” However, Alexis was asked to leave his Fort Worth apartment, and this incident in Texas played a role in his discharge from the Navy, according to a Navy official, speaking to The Washington Post on condition of anonymity.

3. Was Alexis receiving mental health treatment? 

US law enforcement officials told the Associated Press that Alexis was dealing with mental health issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder, and was hearing voices in his head.

The officials said Alexis had been treated by the Veterans Administration since August for mental health problems, but that the Navy had not declared him mentally unfit. Alexis would have lost his security clearance if he had been given that classification. 

Family members also told the Associated Press that Alexis was undergoing mental health treatment.

The officials spoke anonymously because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

Alexis was a heavy drinker, although his drinking was "never a problem," Oui Suthamtewakul told The Washington Post. In Texas, Alexis lived with Mr. Suthamtewakul and his wife, Kristi, in exchange for work at their Happy Bowl Thai restaurant in White Settlement.

Alexis also frequently played computer games, according to friends and associates. While living with friends in Fort Worth, he kept three computers in his room and played games “at the nighttime and all day,” driving up the electrical bills, Naree Wilton, a cousin of Mr. Suthamtewakul, told the Los Angeles Times.

4. What were Alexis's interests in Buddhism and Thai culture?

Pat Pundisto, a member of the Buddhist Temple Wat Busayadhammavanara in White Settlement, Texas, told The New York Times that Alexis dated a Thai woman and often attended Sunday services at the temple, where he intoned Buddhist chants and meditated afterward.

Ty Thairintr, a Forth Worth tooling design engineer who says he’s known Alexis for about five years, told the Los Angeles Times that Alexis planned on becoming a Buddhist monk. 

"He chanted better [in Thai] than me," he said.

"He was a very devoted Buddhist," Mr. Thairintr's wife, Sasipa, told the Times. "Buddhism teaches forgiveness, not grudges. That's why we're so shocked."

5. Was Alexis unhappy about his Navy service? 

According to some friends, Alexis was disgruntled with certain aspects of his military service. Ms. Suthamtewakul told the Los Angeles Times there was "nothing sinister about him," but that Alexis believed that Navy benefits had been withheld from him.

“He just felt slighted by what he was getting each month,” Suthamtewakul said.

Mr. Thairintr said: "He told me he believed he had superior abilities to his co-workers but he didn't get promoted."

"He complained about the rank and file not giving him respect” and felt discriminated against because he was black, Thairintr said.

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