Skip to main content

Flags in Navy Yard shooter's past apparently not red enough

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
September 19, 2013 -- Updated 1037 GMT (1837 HKT)
The FBI identified Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old military contractor from Texas, as the perpetrator of the shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, September 16. Authorities said at least 12 people -- and Alexis -- were killed in the shooting. The FBI identified Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old military contractor from Texas, as the perpetrator of the shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, September 16. Authorities said at least 12 people -- and Alexis -- were killed in the shooting.
Navy Yard gunman
Navy Yard gunman
Navy Yard gunman
Navy Yard gunman
Navy Yard gunman
Navy Yard gunman
Navy Yard gunman
Navy Yard gunman
  • Numerous incidents in Aaron Alexis' past show that he was troubled, prone to violence
  • Alexis shooting out the tires of car in Seattle in 2004 is the first in a string of instances
  • 2010 brings another arrest after Alexis fires a bullet through the ceiling of an apartment
  • Last month, two years after his Navy discharge, he tells police he heard voices in three hotels

(CNN) -- Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis left a trail of so-called red flags that, in hindsight, seem quite glaring, even if the impetus for this week's deadly rampage remains murky.

For almost 10 years, he showed that he was troubled -- and had a predilection for violence -- even if friends and family members familiar with his emotional problems seem floored that he was disturbed enough to shoot and kill 12 people in Washington on Monday.

They may seem like minor episodes when compared with Monday's shootings, but when pieced together, they provide ample fodder for critics who question how Alexis maintained the security clearance that gave him access to the Navy Yard.

2004 'blackout'

On the morning of May 6, 2004, Alexis fired his Glock into two tires of a Honda Accord near a Seattle home where he was staying. He was arrested and charged with malicious mischief.

D.C. shooter's signs of mental illness
Gunman passed background check
Navy Yard gunman's red flags overlooked?
Shooter's mother: 'I am so, so very sorry'

Alexis told police the car's owner, a construction worker, had disrespected him, leading to an anger-fueled "blackout," according to a police report.

His father told Seattle police that Alexis had post-traumatic stress disorder after working as "an active participant in rescue attempts" after the 9/11 attacks, the report said. Alexis' dad further told police his son had anger management issues related to PTSD.

"It appears as if investigators were aware of the incident, interviewed him and were satisfied that it did not preclude granting the clearance," a senior naval officer said of Alexis' 2007 enlistment.

Navy chief defends program that screens contractors after audit shows problems

2008 nightclub arrest

About five months after being granted a "secret" security clearance -- the year after joining the Navy -- Alexis was kicked out of a metro Atlanta club for damaging the furnishings, according to a police report.

Outside, Alexis cursed profusely, and when he defied police orders to stop, they arrested him for disorderly conduct, the report said.

The arrest was integral in the Navy's decision to try to end his military career, which wouldn't culminate for another three years, but Alexis was never stripped of his security clearance.

2010 gunfire incident

Fort Worth, Texas, police arrested Alexis in September 2010 after he allegedly fired a bullet through his ceiling into a neighbor's apartment.

According to records, he told police he accidentally fired the weapon while cleaning it. He was calm when police arrived. He was never charged.

Texas was Alexis' last official address, and friend Kristi Suthamtewakul said he spoke Thai, practiced meditation at a Buddhist temple and participated in his community. But he also hinted at a residual anger.

"One of the things he talked about was 9/11 and how he was there and he saw the towers come down from where he was working," Suthamtewakul said. "He had an anger towards the terrorists who did that and took innocent people."

2011 Navy discharge

Conversation with the Navy Yard shooter
Navy Yard 911: 'Multiple people down'
Alexis' friend: Like Jekyll and Hyde
Source: Aaron Alexis 'heard voices'

When the Navy began pursuing Alexis' general discharge, a dismissal that could have affected his security clearance, he had eight instances of misconduct on his record. Among them were insubordination, disorderly conduct, drunkenness and unauthorized absences from work, a U.S. defense official said.

He eventually left the service with a less-severe honorable discharge because there were no convictions or evidence to necessitate a general discharge, the official said.

Alexis was allowed to keep his security clearance so long as he used it in another official capacity within two years, which he did after gaining employment in September 2012 with a contractor, refreshing computer systems in Japan.

In recent weeks, he sought help from a Veterans Affairs hospital in Rhode Island, his second such visit to a VA facility. While authorities are investigating the circumstances of those visits, sources differ on why Alexis wanted help, variously saying he was either hearing voices or having trouble sleeping.

Suthamtewakul recalled Alexis expressing impatience with the VA: "He was very frustrated with the government and how as a veteran he didn't feel like he was getting treated right or fairly."

Vetting military contractors: How did Navy Yard gunman get in?

August 'microwave machine' allegation

Last month, police in Newport, Rhode Island, responded to a harassment complaint at a Marriott hotel. There, Alexis told them that someone "had sent three people to follow him and to talk, keep him awake and send vibrations into his body," a police report said.

These individuals had followed him to three hotels in the area, Alexis told police, and spoke to him through the walls and floor and used "some sort of microwave machine" that sent "vibrations through the ceiling, penetrating his body so he cannot fall asleep," according to the August 7 report.

Alexis also told authorities, according to the report, that "he does not have a history of mental illness in his family and that he never had any sort of mental episode." Police notified Navy officials, the report said.

Asked for comment, Naval Station Newport officials referred CNN to the FBI, which had no comment.

CNN's Mariano Castillo, Chelsea J. Carter and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
D.C. Navy Yard shooting
September 25, 2013 -- Updated 1806 GMT (0206 HKT)
Surveillance video shows the Navy Yard shooter arrive and begin his deadly rampage.
September 26, 2013 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
According to the FBI, Aaron Alexis was under "the delusional belief that he was being controlled or influenced by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves."
Get to know the victims of the Navy Yard shooting through our interactive.
September 19, 2013 -- Updated 1037 GMT (1837 HKT)
Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis left a trail of so-called red flags that, in hindsight, seem quite glaring, even if the impetus for this week's deadly rampage remains murky.
September 22, 2013 -- Updated 2042 GMT (0442 HKT)
They were civilians and contractors, just starting their day at a massive military compound that's normally a bastion of safety.
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
The picture emerging of the dead gunman is a study in contrasts, one of a man who practiced languages and meditated, and another of a cold-blooded killer.
September 23, 2013 -- Updated 1410 GMT (2210 HKT)
President Barack Obama said Sunday that the United States "can't accept" last week's killing of 12 people at Washington's Navy Yard as "inevitable."
September 19, 2013 -- Updated 1038 GMT (1838 HKT)
For scientist Benita Bell, memories of an encounter with a stranger last week took on a different light after the shooting.
September 18, 2013 -- Updated 1020 GMT (1820 HKT)
The shooter had a "pattern of misconduct" as a Navy reservist, had sporadic run-ins with the law, and had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals for apparent psychological issues.
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1132 GMT (1932 HKT)
The Washington Navy Yard is the home to high-level naval personnel and is the workplace for many junior service members and civilian employees.
September 20, 2013 -- Updated 1647 GMT (0047 HKT)
When Washington's police chief visited wounded officer Scott Williams after the Navy Yard shooting it wasn't a chief visiting a subordinate. It was one cop visiting another cop.
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Months after apologizing for overeager users fingering innocent people as potential suspects in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Reddit shut down a section devoted to chasing down the Washington Navy Yard shooter.
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1148 GMT (1948 HKT)
About 3,000 people work at the Navy Yard, including junior service members and civilian employees. It's supposed to be a secure facility. So what went wrong?
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Aurora. Sandy Hook. Boston. And now the nation's capital. Another mass tragedy filled with incomprehensible loss, nonstop news coverage and a major question for parents: What do we tell our kids?
September 18, 2013 -- Updated 1138 GMT (1938 HKT)
The White House defended President Barack Obama from criticism he was tone deaf in his reaction to the shootings at Washington Navy Yard.
September 18, 2013 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
The national trauma inflicted by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School prompted an emotional and fierce debate on gun control, but the drive for stricter limits fell short in Washington.
September 16, 2013 -- Updated 1923 GMT (0323 HKT)
A Navy commander describes witnessing a man get shot during the Navy Yard shooting. CNN's Rene Marsh has more.
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 0003 GMT (0803 HKT)
A chronicle of the events in the D.C. Navy Yard shooting.
September 16, 2013 -- Updated 2232 GMT (0632 HKT)
A fire alarm went off, as has happened before at the Washington Navy Yard. Terrie Durham wasn't sure if it was anything serious, or a drill.
September 18, 2013 -- Updated 1936 GMT (0336 HKT)
Go inside the story with photos from the scene.