The Navy veteran who shot and killed 12 workers at the Washington Navy Yard had a history of mental problems and just last month told police in Rhode Island he was hearing voices, according to authorities and sources close to the investigation.
Aaron Alexis, who was shot and killed in the Monday morning attack, also said people were trying to send him messages and vibrations by microwave machine in an effort to keep him awake, according to Lt. William Fitzgerald of the Newport Police Department in Newport, R.I.
Officers who responded to the August call were told by Alexis that he had heard "voices speaking to him through the wall, flooring and ceiling," Fitzgerald said. Alexis was doing contracting work for the Navy in Newport.
Federal officials Tuesday refused to comment on the mental health of Alexis, whose family lives in Brooklyn, and authorities continued to search for a motive behind the rampage, which also wounded eight.
Alexis, who had security clearance to enter the Navy facility, walked in, hiding a disassembled shotgun, the source said. Once inside, Alexis carried out the attack with the reassembled shotgun and at least one semiautomatic handgun plucked from a police officer the 34-year-old from Queens and Brooklyn wounded during a gunfight, the source said.
Alexis' fragile mental state and his ability to sneak a shotgun onto a military installation just blocks from the Capitol stoked more calls from officials for answers. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ordered a review of base security, to be submitted to his office by Oct. 1.
A source told Newsday that Alexis planned his attack in advance but once he began shooting, he chose random victims rather than specific targets.
Alexis, with his shotgun hidden, arrived at the historic Navy Yard about 8 a.m. Monday after flashing a valid pass. Once inside, investigators suspect he entered a restroom and put the shotgun back together. He then fired multiple shots at Building 197, headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command and a place housing more than 3,000 employees.
Witness said the gunman made his way to a fourth-floor overlook and picked off people as they gathered in a first-floor cafeteria. A law enforcement officer was shot by Alexis after the two exchanged gunfire and the gunman snatched the officer's handgun, using it to shoot more victims, the source said.
Washington Metropolitan police armed with AR-15 rifles engaged the gunman several times before he was killed, Police Chief Cathy Lanier said at a news conference Tuesday. She said heavily armed police were on the scene quickly. "Within seven minutes, we had at least two units, and possibly four units, outside of the building . . . that could hear, actually, another round of gunfire, and they entered immediately on hearing the gunfire," she said.
"I can tell you there were multiple engagements of the suspect with multiple different agencies before the final shots were fired," she said.
In response to questions, she said the exchange of gunfire lasted more than 30 minutes, but less than an hour.
She said two officers were wounded, and the one that remains hospitalized had "a pretty serious injury" but was expected to make a full recovery.
Lanier said investigators were trying to piece together Alexis' actions in the days and hours preceding the shootings.
Two days before the killing spree, Alexis purchased a Remington 870 shotgun and about 28 shells from SharpShooters Small Arms Range in Virginia, according to a statement released by a lawyer for the facility.
SharpShooters ran a background check on Alexis, using the federal National Crime Information System database, and he was approved for the gun purchase, according to the statement from attorney J. Michael Slocum. Before Alexis bought the shotgun, he took target practice at the range with a rented rifle, according to Slocum's statement.
Weeks before he bought the rifle, there were signs Alexis was mentally troubled.
In his Aug. 7 call to Newport police, he told them he was hearing voices and hopping between several hotels trying to avoid the vibrations being beamed into him from unknown people, Fitzgerald said. Officers took no further action after Alexis told them he did not have a history of mental illness, Fitzgerald said.
Alexis did have a history of misconduct while in the Navy, including instances of not following orders and disappearing from duty without permission, one source said. The FBI is investigating reports from people who knew Alexis that he recently had "work-related issues" and was "angry with the Navy," the source said.
At the Bedford-Stuyvesant home of Alexis' mother, a man who identified himself as the gunman's brother-in-law emerged Tuesday and said the family is trying to understand what happened. "It's devastating," said Anthony Little. "I'm super shocked."
With staff writers
Candice Ruud, Nicole Fuller and William Murphy