September 18, 2013

Navy Yard shooter started slipping last year, friends say

As a man who was losing touch with reality, Aaron Alexis left a trail of police reports, arrest records and mental health consultations.

By Sari Horwitz, Marc Fisher and Leslie Minora / The Washington Post

Aaron Alexis' friends in Fort Worth, Texas watched him begin to slip away last summer. He was depressed, sleepless, increasingly withdrawn. The guy who loved to throw back Heinekens with his buddies now wanted mainly to be left alone.

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This undated photo provided by Kristi Suthamtewakul shows Aaron Alexis. Officials say Alexis, an information technology employee with a defense contractor, used a valid pass to get into the Washington Navy Yard building where he opened fire Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, killing 12 people. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Kristi Suthamtewakul)

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Megan Ridgell, left, and Colette Turner take part in a candlelight vigil in honor of Richard Michael Ridgell, Megan's father, at Jaycee Park in Westminster, Md. Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. Ridgell was killed in Monday's shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington. (AP Photo/Carroll County Times, Dave Munch)

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He told his friend Melinda Downs that he was seeing a counselor at the Department of Veterans Affairs, that at one point he hadn't slept in three days. In July, Alexis' best friend, the man who had shared his home with him, told police that Alexis had poured sugar into his gas tank to damage his car.

This summer, Alexis left Texas and headed north to work for a defense contractor. Since July, he'd been assigned to seven different military bases in four states and the District.

His employer, a tech company called The Experts, put him up at good hotels. He was in one of them, the Marriott in Newport, R.I., on Aug. 7 — 40 days before he would bring a shotgun into the Washington Navy Yard and kill 12 strangers — when just around dawn, he called the Newport police. According to the police report, he said he was hearing voices coming through the ceiling, voices of three people who had been sent to follow him and keep him awake, three people who were now using "some sort of microwave machine" to send vibrations into his body, preventing him from falling asleep. He needed help.

As a Navy reservist and a computer technician, Alexis moved around the country frequently. As a man who was losing touch with reality, he left a trail of police reports, arrest records and mental health consultations that in retrospect add up to a disturbing chronicle of rapidly mounting trouble.

Alexis had had plenty of trouble in the past — shooting out a stranger's tires, damaging furniture in a nightclub, blasting a hole in his neighbor's floor — but arrests in Seattle, Georgia and Fort Worth over the past decade had stemmed from what he and friends called anger management problems. Alexis told friends he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from what he saw in New York at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But it wasn't until recent months that Alexis sought help. He was treated at two different VA hospitals since the Aug. 7 incident in Rhode Island, according to two law enforcement officials who declined to be named because they were not authorized to release information.

Had Alexis' employer known anything about his problems, he would not have been hired, said Thomas Hoshko, chief executive of The Experts.

"Anything that suggest criminal problems or mental health issues, that would be a flag," Hoshko said. "We would not have hired him."

The Newport police report quotes Alexis saying that he had heard the same voices speaking to him "through the walls, floor and ceiling" at the Marriott, a Residence Inn in Middletown, R.I., and at a Navy base where he'd been working. Alexis said he was worried that the people following him were going to hurt him. He also said he had never had "any sort of mental episode."

The two officers who visited Room 405 at the Marriott told Alexis to "stay away from the individuals that are following him," according to Officer Seth Moseley's report.

Newport police Lt. William Fitzgerald said Tuesday that there was no cause for an arrest or to bring Alexis in for observation: "People make a complaint like that to us all the time."

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