September 19, 2013

D.C. shooting: Why were so many red flags ignored?

The gunman sought treatment at Veterans Affairs hospitals but told doctors he was not a risk.

The Washington Post

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Chuck Hagel, Martin Dempsey
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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey take questions at The Pentagon Wednesday after Hagel said he is ordering a review of the physical security of all U.S. defense facilities worldwide.

The Associated Press

Aaron Alexis
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Aaron Alexis

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The reference to "ELF" was particularly baffling. That acronym can mean "extremely low frequency" and can refer to weather or communications efforts, among other things.

Alexis told police in Rhode Island in August that he was hearing voices of three people who had been sent to follow him and keep him awake and were using "some sort of microwave machine" to send vibrations into his body, preventing him from falling asleep, according to police reports. Law enforcement officials said they do not know whether he was referring to those vibrations in his carvings.

In addition, the details of Alexis' visits to VA hospitals provide a view into his efforts to seek help.

Alexis, a Navy veteran, was already enrolled in the VA health-care system. Shortly after he left the service in 2011, he filed a disability compensation claim with VA. In December 2011, he was granted a 20 percent disability rating for "orthopedic issues," according to VA.

A year later, the rating was increased to 30 percent. An additional 10 percent was awarded for tinnitus, a condition that involves ringing in the ear. Based on those disabilities, Alexis was receiving $395 a month, according to VA.

In August, Alexis walked into the Providence hospital seeking treatment for another problem, about which he had long complained to friends: sleeplessness.

The drug Alexis was prescribed, Trazodone, is often used to treat depression. But it is also prescribed for sleeplessness and schizophrenia, according to the National Institutes of Health. It increases the amount of serotonin in the brain, a chemical that helps maintain mental balance.

Also Wednesday, the Northern Virginia gun store that sold Alexis the shotgun released new details about the day he bought it.


Alexis came to Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in Fairfax County on Saturday and tested out an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. While in the store, Alexis also inquired about buying a handgun, according to the store's attorney.

But he didn't make that purchase. In the long lead-up to Alexis' spree, this was one time when he was denied something he wanted. The reason was not Alexis' arrests or his struggles with mental health. It was his out-of-state address. Federal law does not allow dealers to sell handguns directly to out-of-state residents.

Instead, he bought the shotgun, which Virginia law allows out-of-state residents to buy.


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