A government computer contractor from Texas, who was discharged from the Navy Reserve for misconduct including a firearms arrest, was identified by authorities as the sole gunman in shootings that killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard today.
Aaron Alexis, 34, who authorities said had legal access to the facility, was shot and killed by police at the scene. He’d had at least two previous gun-related encounters with police. He was accused in 2010 of firing a bullet through his ceiling into another apartment in Fort Worth, Texas, and was arrested in Seattle in 2004 for shooting out a car’s tires during what Alexis described as an anger-fueled “blackout.”
Alexis told Seattle police he had been on the scene of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, which disturbed him. His father said Alexis suffered from anger-management problems believed to be tied to the experience, according to records posted online today by the Seattle Police Department.
Alexis was removed from the Navy Reserve because of a pattern of misconduct that included the Texas gun arrest, according to a Navy official who asked not to be identified because the personnel information hasn’t been released.
Authorities said tonight they were confident that Alexis acted alone, after saying earlier that there were as many as two additional suspects. “We now feel comfortable we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of the life inside the base today,” Cathy Lanier, chief of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, said during a press briefing.
Those killed in the shooting ranged in age from 46 to 73 years old, and their families were being notified, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray told reporters tonight. None has been identified as an active member of the military, Lanier said. Police began releasing names of some victims tonight.
Eight people were injured in the incident, including three who were shot, Gray said, and all are expected to recover.
Authorities haven’t said what prompted today’s shooting at the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, on the Washington Navy Yard grounds about a mile from the U.S. Capitol.
“We don’t know what the motive is,” Gray said earlier. “We don’t have any reason at this stage to suspect terrorism, but certainly it has not been ruled out.”
Alexis had legal access to the Navy Yard as result of his work as a contractor and used a “valid pass” to gain entry, according to Valerie Parlave, assistant FBI director in charge of the Washington field office.
Alexis worked for The Experts Inc., a subcontractor of Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) on a contract to refresh equipment on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet network, according to a statement by Michael Thacker, a Hewlett-Packard spokesman. He held a valid military ID card, called a common-access card, permitting entry into most facilities, the Washington Post reported, citing Experts chief executive officer Thomas Hoshko.
The shooting, reported at around 8:15 a.m., shuttered streets near the Navy Yard and prompted lockdowns through the day of nearby schools and in the buildings of the U.S. Senate. Police have lifted an order for residents and businesses in the affected area to stay indoors, and street closings are expected to be lifted by tomorrow, Lanier said.
The rampage was the nation’s deadliest mass shooting since 20 pupils and six adults were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, in December. Thirteen people were slain and more than 30 wounded in a November 2009 spree at Fort Hood, Texas. Army Major Nidal Hasan was sentenced to death last month in that case.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation requested that anyone with knowledge of Alexis’s actions before today’s shooting contact them. Lanier said the scene inside the building “was one of the worst things we’ve seen in Washington, D.C.”
“There’s no question” the suspected killer “would have kept shooting” if he hadn’t been killed, Lanier said.
Alexis, who was born in New York City, enlisted in the Navy in 2007 and served in recruit training and logistics in Illinois and Texas, according to the Navy. He was last assigned to a logistics support squadron in Fort Worth, according to the Navy, and last held the rank of specialty aviation electrician’s mate third class. He was discharged in 2011.
Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, 30, the owner of a Thai restaurant in Fort Worth, said he had known Alexis for more than three years and was once his roommate. He said he had never heard Alexis complain about the Navy and was surprised to learn about today’s events.
“I’ve never known him to be angry,” he said.
Fort Worth police arrested Alexis on Sept. 4, 2010, after an upstairs neighbor reported to police that a bullet came through her floor from the apartment below, where Alexis lived.
The neighbor said Alexis had called the police several times complaining she was being loud, and that several days earlier, Alexis had confronted her in the parking lot for making too much noise.
Alexis told police he was cleaning a gun when it went off, according to police records. Prosecutors didn’t file a case against Alexis after determining “that the elements constituting recklessness under Texas law were not present,” according to a statement on the website of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s office.
“He said that he was trying to clean his gun while cooking and that his hands were slippery,” the police report states. “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.”
In 2004, Alexis was arrested by Seattle police on suspicion of shooting out the tires of a construction worker’s vehicle, according the Seattle Police Department. Alexis told police that he had been mocked and disrespected by construction workers. The police didn’t say how the case was resolved.
The shooting today rattled an otherwise heavily secured miitary complex. Navy Commander Tim Jirus said he was in his fourth-floor office when the fire alarm went off and he fled to an alley outside. He stopped to speak with another man, whom he didn’t know, when he heard what sounded like gun shots. He saw the man shot in the head.
“To hear the gun shots and realize you were that close makes me a little unnerved,” Jirus, who works for Naval Sea Systems Command, told reporters outside the Navy Yard. “It makes me like life a lot today. I’m going to hug my kids the next time I see them.”
Captain Mark Vandroff, who works in the Naval Sea Systems Command facility, known as Building 197, said he was meeting with his staff, preparing a presentation at the Pentagon next month, when the shooting began. Two rounds passed through his conference room on the third floor, though no one was injured.
Vandroff and his staff barricaded the door with furniture until around 10 a.m., when police escorted them to another building in the complex. He said a friend he declined to identify was killed.
“I lost a friend today,” he said. “I lost someone who I served with at the Pentagon years ago. I haven’t processed that yet.”
The Washington Navy Yard, located along the Anacostia River, was created in 1799 and is the oldest military installation in the U.S., according to the Navy. It is home to several Navy offices and commands, including the Navy Museum. The Naval Sea Systems Command oversees the service’s $30 billion annual budget for developing ships, submarines and combat systems.
Streets around the yard in southeast Washington were closed throughout the day while police cars, tactical vehicles and emergency responders raced along M Street Southeast, with sirens blaring, and helicopters buzzed overhead.
Shortly after 3 p.m., the U.S. Senate initiated a lockdown for the following two hours as a precaution, and President Barack Obama canceled a planning Latin music event at the White House in light of the shooting.
The Washington Nationals baseball team, whose stadium is several blocks from the Navy Yard, postponed its scheduled game tonight against the Atlanta Braves. The game will be played as part of a day-night doubleheader tomorrow, Major League Baseball said in a statement.
One police officer was among the wounded and was taken MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Two women were also treated at the hospital for wounds to the shoulder, head and hand, Janis Orlowski, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
Obama was briefed several times this morning about the Navy Yard shooting by his homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, according to a White House statement.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible,” Obama said before a speech on the fifth anniversary of Wall Street’s financial crisis.
“We are going to be investigating thoroughly what happened -- as we do so many of these shootings, sadly, that have happened -- and do everything that we can to try to prevent them,” Obama said.
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