A day after a bloody rampage at the Washington Navy Yard left 13 dead in the nation’s capital, troubling new details emerged Tuesday about the psychological state of alleged gunman Aaron Alexis and why his life appeared to have suddenly unraveled.
Among the revelations: Alexis legally purchased a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun Saturday, two days before the shooting, in Lorton, Va. A new police report said Alexis was hearing voices, and Navy officials said the former Navy reservist had at least five military infractions.
Alexis apparently passed all the background checks required in Virginia to buy the weapon. That raised new questions because of two prior arrests for gun-related incidents in the states of Washington and Texas and, more importantly, what appears to have been a psychotic break little more than a month before the killings.
An Aug. 7 police report from the Newport Police Department in Rhode Island that was released Tuesday afternoon said officers were dispatched to a Marriott hotel for a harassment report from Alexis. When they spoke to him, he explained that he’d been in an argument before boarding a flight from Virginia and that two men and a woman were sent to follow him and “and keep him awake by talking to him and sending vibrations into his body.”
The report said Alexis said he “first heard them talking to him through a wall while at the Residence Inn.” It said he’d switched to a hotel at a naval base before taking a room at the Marriott, where the voices were coming through the floor and ceiling, and that individuals who he feared would harm him were using “some sort of microwave machine” to send vibrations.
The officer’s report said the naval station police were notified and local police were advised that there’d be a follow-up to determine whether Alexis, a reservist until 2011, was actually a defense contractor.
The newly released police report raises questions about what happened to that information. His employer, defense subcontractor The Experts, issued a statement Tuesday that said Alexis worked for the firm for six months. The company subcontracted with computing giant Hewlett-Packard and Alexis underwent two routine background checks plus two more comprehensive reviews to obtain secret-level clearance from the Defense Department.
“The latest background check and security clearance confirmation were in late June of 2013 and revealed no issues other than one minor traffic violation,” the company said.
The Navy announced Tuesday that it was conducting a review of its security clearance procedures. A senior Pentagon official confirmed that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would order a review of physical security and access at all Defense Department installations worldwide.
"The secretary is collecting input from senior leaders today to define the parameters of this review,” the official said, requesting anonymity in order to speak freely and noting that a formal announcement could come as soon as Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials provided a new timeline Tuesday of the shooting spree, revealing for the first time that the alleged gunman had legally purchased a shotgun used in the attacks from a gun shop in Lorton, Va., just outside the District of Columbia. The shop’s legal counsel, J. Michael Slocum, provided a statement to McClatchy confirming that Alexis had bought a shotgun there less than 48 hours before the rampage.
“Sharpshooters Small Arms Range was visited by Aaron Alexis on September 15, 2013,” according to the statement. “Mr. Alexis rented a rifle and purchased ammunition which he used at the practice range. He then purchased a Remington 870 shotgun and a small amount of ammunition (approximately 2 boxes – 24 shells). In accordance with federal law, Mr. Alexis’ name and other applicable information, including his state of residency, was provided to the Federal NICS system and he was approved by that system.”
NCIS is the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which licensed gun dealers use to determine whether buyers are eligible to purchase weapons.
Following Monday’s shooting, “Sharpshooters was visited by federal law enforcement authorities, who reviewed the range’s records, including video and other materials. So far as is known, Mr. Alexis visited the range only once, and he has had no other contact with the range, so far as is known.”
At an afternoon news conference, the FBI said the shotgun was the only weapon Alexis had when he began his attack.
“At this time, we believe that Aaron Alexis entered with a shotgun. We do not have any information at this time that he had an AR-15 in his possession,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge Valerie Parlave said, confirming that Alexis also allegedly used a handgun taken from a guard he’d shot.
The FBI also offered new details about Alexis’ final days.
He’s now thought to have arrived in the Washington area around Aug. 25 and stayed in area hotels. On Sept. 7, he checked into a Residence Inn not far from the Navy Yard in the southwestern portion of Washington.
“We continue to conduct interviews, exploit digital media and run down every lead we can to piece together his recent movements and to determine the motive behind his attack,” said Parlave, who asked the public to share any and all information that’s known about Alexis. “No piece of information is too small.”
Hundreds of tips already have come in, and the investigation is spanning both coasts, with a look at the gunman’s checkered past in Seattle and in the New York area, two regions where he’s thought to have family.
Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier gave a more detailed timeline of Monday’s deadly events.
Officers were on the scene within two minutes of the first call. The first assault team arrived in seven minutes, and members were immediately in the building scoping out the gunman’s location. The entire gun battle lasted more than half an hour but less than an hour, Lanier said.
There were “multiple engagements with the suspect from multiple agencies . . . before the final shots were fired,” she said.
The FBI refused to comment on multiple news reports that Alexis, who left the military in January 2011, had been on a path for a general discharge.
Navy officials, sharing confidential information only on the condition of anonymity, said Alexis had received an honorable discharge in 2011 after four years of reservist duty, despite at least five military infractions, including being away without leave and room-inspection failure.
“There were a series of military conduct offenses,” the official said. “I can’t give you a number on them, but they ranged from unauthorized absence from work to insubordination to disorderly conduct. None of them rose to the level of court-martial, but they were things that were handled in the conduct system by his chain of command.”
While Alexis was serving in the Navy as a reservist, he had civilian arrests, including one in Georgia on a disorderly conduct charge and one in Texas for discharge of a firearm. There was a third arrest in Seattle, which predated his naval career, for shooting the tires of a parked car.
The FBI declined to comment on multiple but unconfirmed reports that Alexis had suffered a psychotic break and sought treatment from Veterans Affairs and reports about his misconduct in the Navy.
“We continue to look into Mr. Alexis’ past, including his medical and criminal histories,” Parlave said, declining to comment further.