Shooter's History Renews Debate between Mental Issues, Gun Crimes

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

Shooter's History Renews Debate between Mental Issues, Gun Crimes


Byline: Ben Wolfgang, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Aaron Alexis told police he heard voices in his head and microwave vibrations prevented him from sleeping. He was an avid player of violent video games and faced multiple disciplinary actions while in the Navy Reserve.

But none of that stopped him from securing credentials to enter the Washington Navy Yard and legally buying a gun to slaughter 12 innocent people.

Details about the 34-year-old Navy Yard gunman's life revived a debate often overlooked in Washington's partisan gun squabbles: the connection between mental illness and gun crimes that concerns advocates on both sides of the issue.

While Democrats pressed anew Tuesday for gun control laws that have little chance of passing Congress, issues surrounding mental health and screening, which also played a major role in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, remain untouched in the nation's capital.

The disconnect played out on the political stage while police provided a clearer picture of how Alexis entered the complex Monday with just one weapon: a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun that he is suspected of buying at Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in Lorton a week earlier.

Valerie Parlave, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, said Alexis may have obtained a handgun once inside the facility. Law enforcement officials also have told The Washington Times that they are investigating whether Alexis also used two handguns, likely picked up from victims, as the shooting unfolded.

Officials also dismissed reports that Alexis used an AR-15 assault rifle.

We do not have any information at this time that he had an AR-15 in his possession. We also believe Mr. Alexis may have gained access to a handgun once inside the facility, Ms. Parlave said.

A senior law enforcement official told The Washington Times that Alexis is believed to have concealed his Remington 870 shotgun in a bag, disassembling the weapon into two parts and then reassembling it in a bathroom after gaining entry to the complex.

He then made his way to the fourth floor of Building 197 and began shooting victims down below in an atrium cafeteria.

The official said there would have been no reason for Navy Yard security to search the gunman's bag because he had a credential to access the building as a contractor.

Beyond the details of Alexis' checkered past - which includes at least three arrests, including two involving firearms - a portrait of the killer, along with what may have driven him to such unspeakable violence, began to come to light. It is raising fresh questions about the links between mental illness and access to guns, an issue that both sides of the gun control debate want to address.

Troubled figure

Alexis, who was fatally shot by police, was by all accounts a troubled, nomadic figure. Psychologists said he may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after living in New York City during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in addition to paranoia, self-described anger-fueled blackouts and other issues.

Alexis also reportedly was angry over his military benefits, or lack thereof, as a result of his five-year stint as a Navy reservist.

It seemed like a perfect storm, said Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University and a specialist in the causes of human aggression and violence. We'll never know what caused him to engage in the shooting rampage, but there are a number of risk factors that have emerged.

Chief among those factors is Alexis' clear struggle with mental illness.

On Aug. 7, he told police in Newport, R.I., that people were talking to him through the walls and ceilings of his hotel, and were sending vibrations into his body to keep him from sleeping.

Professionals say the fact that Alexis acted out his rage at a Navy facility rather than at soft locations such as a movie theater or an elementary school offers clues into his frame of mind and motivations. …

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