WASHINGTON – The shotgun Aaron Alexis allegedly used to launch the shooting Monday at the Washington Naval Shipyard that killed 12 naval and civilian personnel was legal, since when he purchased it, Alexis had no record of either a misdemeanor or felony conviction.
Police officers ultimately killed Alexis, bringing the total fatalities from the episode to 13.
While he had numerous brushes with the law, Alexis apparently never was convicted of a crime that would have denied him the ability to purchase a weapon or apply for a conceal-carry firearms license.
Alexis, 34, a former Navy reservist, was a contractor with a Secret clearance doing work at the shipyard. He worked for a subcontractor of Hewlett-Packard called The Experts that refreshed equipment used on the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet network.
The fact that he may have been toting a firearm – a shotgun — in the District of Columbia and in a concealed fashion is against D.C. firearms laws.
While authorities say they have not determined a motive, a friend, Kristi Suthamtewkal, whose husband owns the Thai Bowl Restaurant in Fort Worth where Alexis worked at one point, said that “he was tired of dealing with the government,” feeling he was slighted as a veteran, and had financial problems.
She added that he was “ready to move out of the country” and that he complained of racism.
According to various sources that have been pieced together, Alexis had purchased legally a Remington 870 pump-action 12-gauge shotgun from Sharpshooters Small Arms Range of Lorton, Va.
He made the purchase after first test-firing an AR-15 and then the shotgun.
One report said that he sought to purchase the AR-15, but a spokesman at Sharpshooters said that there was a wait for approval, so he chose the shotgun instead.
He subsequently purchased the shotgun, filling out Virginia and federal application forms.
On both Virginia and federal forms, the applicant is asked, among other things, whether he has any prior convictions or a history of mental illness.
Presumably he answered these and other questions in the negative, because any single “yes” answer would have halted the purchasing process.
Following a brief wait for a police check, he was allowed that day – just two days before his shooting spree – to take the shotgun with him.
Less than a month earlier, however, Alexis had sought help at the Department of Veterans Affairs for mental illness.
Other reports say that Alexis was a troubled man with a history of angry outbursts.
Prior to seeking help from the VA for mental illness, he had called police in Newport, R.I., at a motel near a naval facility, complaining of hearing the voices of three people talking to him through the walls. He said that he was being kept awake by people “sending vibrations into his body” by “using some sort of microwave machine.”
Alexis apparently was convinced to change hotels. However, police said that he called again to complain that those voices were still talking to him through the walls.
Newport police said that because of its relationship with the nearby naval facility, it filed a report with the duty officer.
Because there was no violent encounter with Alexis, he wasn’t arrested, and the episode apparently didn’t rise to the level of the Navy suspending his Secret security clearance.
In addition, because there was no record of his mental illness to which Virginia or federal police had access, there was no way for the process of purchasing a weapon to be halted.
Consequently, he could continue gaining access to military facilities nationwide and legally purchase a firearm.
Alexis was able to gain access and pass through security checkpoints to make his way up to the fourth floor of Building 197 at the Washington Naval Shipyard.
He then began to shoot down at a crowded Atrium one floor below and into the lobby below that where the cafeteria was full of employees having breakfast.
Developing information reveals that Alexis went through security checks at the shipyard with a valid government contractor identification card. He was carrying either a backpack or duffel bag, whose contents were not checked due to his employee status.
Employees with an authorized identification badge generally don’t have to reveal the contents of a bag unless there is an alert.
The evidence suggests he carried the Remington 870 in a bag out of sight of police at the security checkpoints.
One suggestion is that the Remington 870 pump-action shotgun had a pistol grip, which would have significantly shortened the length of the shotgun to make it more concealable.
The Washington Post, however, quotes unnamed officials as saying that Alexis had carved bizarre phrases on the stock of his shotgun. The phrases were “Better off this way” and “My ELF weapon.” ELF can be a communication abbreviation meaning “extremely low frequency.”
The Navy has used ELF in a number of capacities, including the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, which often is cited by conspiracy theorists.
Law enforcement sources say that he went into the bathroom on the fourth floor with his bag and then emerged with the shotgun.
He began firing the shotgun around 8:15 a.m. from the fourth floor and then went down to the third floor and lobby.
While still fragmentary, reports suggest he used a combination of double-ought buck, or OO-buck, and slugs, which would have constituted considerable lethal fire, especially into crowded areas as the open area of the atrium.
The OO-buck would have sprayed out from nine to 12 pellets about the size of a .38 caliber bullet. After 15 yards, the pellets would have spread out over a wide area, hitting anyone in their path.
Any pinpoint shooting at a distance would have necessitated the use of slugs, which are larger than .50 caliber.
Around 8:45 a.m., Alexis killed a security guard in the lobby and took the guard’s 9 mm handgun, law enforcement officials said.
He then dropped the shotgun and began firing with the handgun.
In the intervening encounter, he also wounded a D.C. police officer on the third floor.
However, police units then engaged him and at around 9:20 a.m. fatally shot Alexis in the head on the third floor.