Friends puzzled by Navy Yard shooter’s violence

Posted Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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How to help Anyone with information about Aaron Alexis should call the FBI at 800-225-5324.

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Friends say Aaron Alexis regularly meditated at a local Buddhist temple, was unfailingly courteous and never showed signs of the violence that is now his legacy.

But police reports paint a darker picture of the Fort Worth man, including an anger-fueled “blackout” and shooting in Seattle in 2004 and, more recently, a firearms incident at a Fort Worth apartment, after which a neighbor told police that she was “terrified” of him.

One friend said that Alexis, a former electrician’s mate in the Navy, was upset with the government because of a dispute over benefits.

On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that Alexis had been suffering serious mental health issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder. The AP, citing information from unnamed U.S. law enforcement officials, said Alexis had been treated since August by the Veterans Administration for mental problems, which including hearing voices.

Alexis, 34, is accused of opening fire on workers at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday. Twelve people were killed and several others wounded before Alexis was fatally shot.

Authorities said they have not established a motive for the shooting.

“I don’t think he’d do this,” said Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, who described himself as Alexis’ “best friend” and roommate for three years.

“He has a gun, but I don’t think he’s that stupid,” said Suthamtewakul, owner of Happy Bowl Thai in White Settlement, where Alexis also worked as a waiter at times. “He didn’t seem aggressive to me.”

Alexis was arrested by Seattle police in 2004 after shooting out two tires of a car parked next door to his home. He told authorities that construction workers had “disrespected him.”

He also told police that he had blacked out and didn’t remember the shooting until hours later, according to a police report posted by the Seattle Times.

The Fort Worth incident happened in September 2010. Alexis was arrested after shooting a hole through the floor of a woman’s apartment.

The woman, who was not identified, told police that Alexis had confronted her in a parking lot a few days earlier about making too much noise and that she felt the shooting was intentional.

He said the gun had discharged while he was cleaning it, and he was never formally charged in the case.

Alexis was in the Navy from 2007 to 2011 and was most recently stationed at Naval Air Station Fort Worth, according to Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Blansett, a Navy spokeswoman in McLean, Va.

He was a petty officer 3rd class in the Navy Reserve’s Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 46, according to the Navy.

One Navy official told The Washington Post that Alexis was discharged for “a pattern of misconduct,” which included the 2010 gun incident in Fort Worth.

Friends said he left the Navy because he didn’t like to get up early and had complained about being underpaid.

“But I don’t think that’s a reason to kill people,” Suthamtewakul said.

‘Always very polite’

Alexis had recently visited Thailand and had been to Japan with a computer defense contractor, where he worked in information technology, said Sandy Guerra-Cline, a regular customer at Happy Bowl.

“He is not a guy that talked about guns or talked about anything violent,” said Guerra-Cline, who works in the Star-Telegram newsroom. “As a matter of fact, my best memories of him were of him sitting at one of the tables at Happy Bowl trying to teach himself Thai.”

Alexis most recently rented a small house near White Settlement Road and Cherry Lane in Fort Worth, but he had not lived there for six to eight months, said his landlord, Somsak Srisan.

“Oh boy, I can’t believe this,” Srisan said. “He was always very polite to me.”

Srisan said he believed Alexis lived alone at the modest house in west Fort Worth.

“When he lived at my house, I never saw him get angry about anything,” Srisan said. “My feeling is, if he was angry about anything, he didn’t show that to me.”

He saw Alexis meditate and said he always remained calm around him.

“I can’t believe he would do anything like this,” Srisan said. “He always behaved well around me.”

Alexis also stayed with Nutpisit Suthamtewakul and his wife, Kristi.

She said Alexis, as a civilian contractor, was upset with the government over some sort of dispute concerning benefits.

She said she didn’t know much more about it because “Aaron is a very private person.”

She said that when he lived with her and her husband, he would become upset when he could not pay his share of the utilities.

She also said Alexis held a concealed handgun license, and when he helped out at the restaurant, she knew he was carrying a pistol.

“You wouldn’t know it,” she said. “His shirt was down over it.”

Kristi Suthamtewakul said that Alexis moved out about five months ago and that she hadn’t seen him since.

She showed a photo of Alexis taken at Christmas in which he’s smiling and wearing a watch cap.

Mike Ritrovato, another friend, said Alexis was an “easygoing guy” who liked to play “shoot-em-up” video games. He said that Alexis bragged about his shooting skills but that he had never seen him with a gun.

Ritraovato, who was at Happy Bowl on Monday, said he has not seen Alexis for about five to six months.

Arrested in Seattle

In 2004, Alexis was living in Seattle with his grandmother.

On May 6, two construction workers watched as Alexis walked out of the home, pulled a handgun from his waistband and fired three times into the rear tires of a parked Honda Accord.

The car was owned by a construction worker, according to a police report.

Alexis told police that workers had “mocked” and “disrespected him,” according to a Seattle police report.

Alexis told police that he had an anger-fueled “blackout.”

His father told police that his son was in New York on 9-11 and had participated in rescue attempts, according to the police report.

The father said family members believed that Alexis had anger-management issues related to PTSD.

On Monday, Alexis’ family said in a statement: “Our hearts go out to you. We apologize for the inconvenience of losing a loved one. We also lost a loved one.”

‘Terrified’ of Alexis

Some six years later, in Fort Worth, police were called to The Orion Oak Hills apartments on a report that someone had fired a shot through the floor of a woman’s apartment.

She told police that Alexis, who lived beneath her, had called police on her several times in the past for “being loud.”

The woman told police that she was “terrified” of Alexis.

“He said that he was trying to clean his gun while cooking and that his hands were slippery. He told me that he began to take the gun apart when his hands slipped and pulled the trigger, discharging a round into the ceiling,” the police report states.

Police arrested Alexis on suspicion of discharging a firearm in a municipality, a Class A misdemeanor.

“After reviewing the facts presented by the police department, it was determined that the elements constituting recklessness under Texas law were not present and a case was not filed,” said Melody McDonald, a spokeswoman with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office.

The Orion at Oak Hill apartments in Fort Worth began eviction efforts against Alexis later in September 2010. Records show that he moved from the Oak Hill apartments in December 2010.

Staff writers Bill Hanna and Bud Kennedy contributed to this report.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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