Motive In Mass Shooting Remains Unclear As Investigation Continues

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A detailed profile of the former Navy reservist who slaughtered 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard was coming into focus Tuesday as investigators continue to piece together information about the attack.

Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old information technology employee with a defense contractor, used a valid pass to get into the highly secured installation Monday morning and started firing inside a building, the FBI said.

He was killed in a gun battle with police.

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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 — remained a mystery, investigators said.

Valerie Parlave, head of the FBI’s field office in Washington, said Tuesday that investigators believe Alexis carried out the attack with a shotgun he legally purchased and “may have gained access to a handgun once inside the facility” after he began shooting.

“We believe that Mr. Alexis entered Building 197 at the Navy Yard with a shotgun,” she said. “We do not have any information at this time that he had an AR-15 in his possession.”

Parlave called the investigation a “methodical and time intensive process” and said authorities will remain on the scene as long as necessary.

Who Is Aaron Alexis?

A convert to Buddhism, Alexis grew up in New York City, but his last known address was in Fort Worth, Texas.

While some neighbors and acquaintances described him as “nice,” Alexis had flares of rage and complained about the Navy and being a victim of discrimination.

He also had run-ins with the law over shooting incidents in 2004 and 2010 and was portrayed in police reports as seething with anger.

At the time of the rampage, Alexis was an employee with The Experts, a company that was a Defense Department subcontractor on a Navy-Marine Corps computer project, authorities said.

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Parlave said Alexis had access to the Navy Yard as a defense contractor and used a valid pass.

“While we have learned some information about his recent whereabouts, we continue to work to determine where he has been, who he has talked to and what he has done,” said Parlave.

Michael Ritrovato, a close friend of Alexis, said he was angry recently about getting stiffed on a job.

“He called me about three to four months ago that they didn’t pay him on a new job as government contractor or something,” he said.

Alexis had been a full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to early 2011, leaving as a petty officer third class, the Navy said. It did not say why he left, but CBS 2’s Jack Fink reported that Alexis was cited eight times for misconduct.

Aaron Alexis (credit: handout)

Aaron Alexis (credit: handout)

He had been an aviation electrician’s mate with a unit in Fort Worth.

CBS News special correspondent John Miller said Alexis had sought treatment for mental health issues from the Veteran’s Administration.

“He said he was hearing voices, he was detached from reality at certain points,” Miller said. “He had sought treatment a number of times at a number of places and he was also frustrated there. He claimed he wasn’t getting his full VA benefits.”

The Navy had not declared him mentally unfit, which would have rescinded a security clearance Alexis had from his earlier time in the Navy Reserves.

Last month, Alexis called police in Rhode Island to complain that voices were harassing him through a wall at his hotel and that he worried they might harm him, authorities said. Alexis told them he was in town as a naval contractor. Newport is the site of Naval Station Newport, the Naval War College and several military contractors.

Alexis told police he had gotten in an argument while boarding a flight in Virginia and he believed the person he argued with sent three people to follow him. He said he never saw the people but believed they were using a microwave machine to send vibrations into his body so he could not fall asleep, police said.

Newport police said they alerted police at the naval station.

Family members told investigators Alexis was being treated for his mental issues.

Alexis was born in Queens, according to the FBI. He was employed part-time doing clerical work at Borough of Manhattan Community College from 2001 until 2003, the school said.

His mother, sister and brother-in-law live in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. FBI agents interviewed the family and searched their Putnam Avenue home on Monday.

“From what I do know, he wasn’t that type of person,” his brother-in-law Anthony Little said. “I didn’t hear anything that would make me feel like, as a newcomer to family, that someone should be watching him.”

Investigators have also questioned his former neighbor, Wendy Lopez.

“The FBI came and asked me the same questions everyone else is asking — what I remembered about the family, anything in his demeanor to indicate anything — but there was nothing at all,” she said.

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Investigators also searched for clues in the Residence Inn hotel room in Washington where Alexis checked in earlier this month.

In 2004, police in Seattle said Alexis was arrested for shooting out the tires of another man’s vehicle in what he later described to detectives as an anger-fueled “blackout.”

In 2010, he was arrested again for discharging a firearm into the ceiling of his Fort Worth apartment, but Tarrant County officials said the case was not pursued after it was determined the gun discharged accidentally.

After the shooting incident in 2004, Alexis also told police he was present during “the tragic events of September 11, 2001” and described “how those events had disturbed him.”

Detectives later spoke with Alexis’ father, who lived in New York at the time. He told police Alexis had anger management problems associated with PTSD and that Alexis had been an active participant in rescue attempts on 9/11.

After leaving the reserves in 2011, Alexis worked as a waiter and delivery driver at the Happy Bowl Thai restaurant in a suburb of Fort Worth, according to Afton Bradley, a former co-worker. The two overlapped for about eight months before Alexis left in May, Bradley said.

Having traveled to Thailand, Alexis learned some Thai and could speak to Thai customers in their native language.

‘A Horrific Tragedy’

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.

“This is a horrific tragedy,” Mayor Vincent Gray said.

For much of the day Monday, 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,” Washington police Chief Cathy Lanier said.

The FBI took charge of the investigation.

Witnesses Describe Attack

The Washington Navy Yard is a sprawling, 41-acre labyrinth of buildings and streets protected by armed guards and metal detectors, and employees have to show their IDs at doors and gates. More than 18,000 people work there.

The rampage took place at Building 197, the headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command, which buys, builds and maintains ships and submarines. About 3,000 people work at headquarters, many of them civilians.

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.

Patricia Ward, a logistics-management specialist, said she was in the cafeteria getting breakfast.

“It was three gunshots straight in a row — pop, pop, pop. Three seconds later, it was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, so it was like about a total of seven gunshots, and we just started running,” Ward said.

Todd Brundidge, an executive assistant with Navy Sea Systems Command, said he and co-workers encountered a gunman in a long hallway on the third floor. The gunman was wearing all blue, he said.

“He just turned and started firing,” Brundidge said.

Police say Alexis intended to kill as many people as possible, and the quick response by law enforcement officials saved lives.

“Literally, two minutes after the call was dispatched, we had officers at the gates arriving at the scene, Lanier said. “Within seven minutes, (we) had officers … entering the building to engage an active shooter.”

The Victims

On Tuesday morning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, accompanied by other senior department officials, laid a wreath at the U.S. Navy Memorial plaza to honor the victims.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed that flags on state government buildings be flown at half-staff on Wednesday in honor of the victims.

“I join all Americans in mourning the 12 innocent lives lost during the tragic and senseless attack at the Washington Navy Yard,” Cuomo said. “On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of the victims.”

Police in Washington have released the names of the 12 victims killed in Monday’s shooting: Michael Arnold, 59; Martin Bodrog, 54; Arthur Daniels, 51; Sylvia Frasier, 53; Kathy Gaarde, 62; John Roger Johnson, 73; Frank Kohler, 50; Mary Francis Knight, 51; Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46; Vishnu Pandit, 61; Gerald L. Read, 58; and Richard Michael Ridgell, 52.

Some of the victims’ family members were still in disbelief Tuesday, CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported.

“Not possible that they shot him just for no reason,” said Patricia Arnold said of her son, Michael. “He loved his country. He loved the Navy. He loved flying. He was just a happy person.”

Judy Johnson said her husband, John, was finally going to retire soon at age 73.

“He wanted to keep working because he just loved it,” she said. “Loved all the people he worked with. Never met a stranger in his life. And just a very happy, positive, wonderful, loving human being.”

Megan Ridgell said she didn’t want her father, Richard, a security guard, to be remembered in connection with the massacre.

“I want him to be known as a dad above a victim of a shooting because he was a great dad for all of us,” she said.

In addition to those killed at the Navy Yard, eight people were hurt, including three who were shot and wounded, officials said. Those three were a police officer and two female civilians, authorities said. CBS 2’s Amy Dardashtian first reported one of the survivors is 56 year old Jennifer Bennett of Springfield, Virginia. Bennett, a mother of two, worked in strategic planning and leadership management at the Navy Yard for the past two years.

All eight shooting survivors are expected to survive.

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