Alleged Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis: A study in contradictions

The Navy Yard gunman was a defense contractor, former Navy reservist and Buddhist who had run-ins with the law

Aaron Alexis -- the man authorities allege was behind the Navy Yard shooting that left him and 12 other people dead in Washington Monday -- seems a study in contradictions. He was a Defense Department contractor, a former Navy reservist, a convert to Buddhism and an online student of aeronautics who had flashes of temper that led to run-ins with the law.

Alexis was given an early -- but honorable -- discharge from the Navy Reserve in 2011 despite having exhibited a pattern of misconduct during his career, a Navy official said Tuesday. The misconduct charges ranged from traffic offenses to disorderly conduct.

At the time of Monday's shooting, the 34-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas, worked at the Washington Navy Yard as an information-technology contractor. His employer, The Experts, was a subcontractor of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services. Alexis had no apparent misconduct issues, said Thomas Hoshko, CEO of The Experts.

From 2007 to 2011, he served as a full-time Navy reservist working in the fleet logistics support unit at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, according to a military document sent to Al Jazeera. Before being discharged, Alexis had risen to the rank of aviation electrician's mate 3rd class and received the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. 

In 2012, he enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to pursue a bachelor's degree in aeronautics.

Alexis had a history of mental problems, according to officials.

He was treated in August by Veterans Affairs for unspecified mental-health issues, and had, according to unnamed officials who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, been suffering from paranoia and a sleep disorder and had been hearing voices.

The Navy had not declared Alexis mentally unfit, according to AP, which would have rescinded a security clearance he had from his time in the Navy Reserves.

And Alexis' troubles went back farther: While living in Seattle in 2004, he was arrested for shooting out the tires of another man's vehicle in what he later described to police as an anger-fueled "blackout" possibly triggered by a parking dispute. Alexis also told police that he was present during "the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001" and described "how those events had disturbed him," Seattle police said.

In 2010 he had a second run-in with the law when Fort Worth police arrested him after a neighbor alleged that he had shot a bullet into her apartment. Although Alexis admitted to firing his weapon, he said that it was an accidental discharge as he was cleaning his gun. The neighbor argued that the discharge was intentional, but police ruled it an accident and did not pursue the case.

Nevertheless, friends and acquaintances found Alexis affable.

Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, owner of Happy Bowl Thai in White Settlement, Texas, told Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro that he and Alexis lived together for about three years and that the alleged shooter, whom he described as a "close friend," worked as a waiter at his restaurant before working with The Experts. 

Oui Suthametewakul, an acquaintance, described Alexis as a "nice guy" and devoted Buddhist but said he sometimes carried a gun and would frequently complain about being the victim of discrimination.

"We are all shocked," said Ty Thairintr, a congregant at Wat Budsaya, a Buddhist temple in Fort Worth.

"We are nonviolent. Aaron was a very good practitioner of Buddhism. He could chant better than even some of the Thai congregants," Thairintr said.

Thairintr said Alexis told him he was upset with the Navy because "he thought he never got a promotion because of the color of his skin. He hated his commander."

Another friend, Michael Ritavato, who worked as a handyman for Happy Bowl Thai, said that he was shocked by what happened and that Alexis "seemed like a really nice guy." 

"The only negative thing I could say, he played video games all the times -- the shooting kind," he said.

Ritavato also recalled one of their last conversations, in which Alexis told him that he was frustrated with The Experts because he wasn't receiving all of his salary.

Investigators, however, have yet to determine a motive for Monday's shooting spree.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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