Navy Yard Shooter, Aaron Alexis, Killed In Battle With Police

Sep 17, 2013
Originally published on September 17, 2013 8:38 am
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Now, we may never know why the shooter, Aaron Alexis, opened fire but still, we search for clues in the details of his life.


He was 34, a civilian contractor and former Navy reservist.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Daniel Zwerdling is in our studios with more. Danny, good morning.

DANIEL ZWERDLING, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve, Renee.

INSKEEP: What more have you learned?

ZWERDLING: A very conflicted picture. We've talked to people who worked with Aaron Alexis, people who used to know his family; and they suggest there were two very different sides of this man. First version: He was kind of a nice guy - quiet, but very sweet.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

ZWERDLING: He was into service. He joined the Navy in 2007. He became an aircraft mechanic. He got discharged four years later. He was just about to start working at the Navy Yard as a computer contractor with the Navy. He started going to a Buddhist temple around Fort Worth in - around 2010. People there say he would meditate, and help out around the temple. And just this past year, he was working at a little mom-and-pop Thai restaurant in Fort Worth, called the Happy Bowl. And one of our colleagues, Joe Shapiro, talked to a server there, Afton Bradley. She says she saw him just a few months ago. And listen to how she describes him.

AFTON BRADLEY: He was very nice and very smart. I wouldn't think anything bad, that he would do this at all.

ZWERDLING: And it turns out that some of the staff at the main newspaper in Fort Worth - the Star-Telegram - knew him, too, because they would hang out at the Happy Bowl and he would wait on them. And one of the copy editors, Sandy Guerra-Cline, talked about Alexis yesterday in a video online.


MONTAGNE: So that is one side of Aaron Alexis, although we now know, of course, that he had a darker side. And I take it that you've been hearing about that, too.

ZWERDLING: Yes. They were at least two incidents in recent years involving guns. In 2004, police arrested him in Seattle after he allegedly shot out the tires of a construction worker's car with a Glock pistol. His father told police that he had felt disrespected, that they had parked in the driveway next to his house. Alexis told the police that the construction workers had mocked him, and that he had had a - what he described as a blackout, fueled by anger. He also said that he had been in New York on 9/11. His father said that he had helped in rescue efforts, although we can't get any evidence of that.

INSKEEP: Don't know that he was actually there, but that's what he was saying.

ZWERDLING: Exactly. And then in 2010, a woman who lived above him in an apartment complex in Fort Worth called police. She was terrified. She said she'd been sitting in her chair; suddenly, there was a loud noise - a pop, and there was a hole in the floor next to her and in the ceiling, just a few feet from where she was sitting. It turned out that Alexis had shot off his gun. Now, the police came. They kept knocking on his door. He wouldn't answer. Finally, he said, oh - I was cleaning my gun, and it went off accidentally. The woman told the police that she was terrified of him, that he'd confronted her in the parking lot. Well, he was arrested briefly and let go.

INSKEEP: Nothing came of that incident other than that?

ZWERDLING: That's it. And perhaps the most curious thing we learned about him was from our colleague Gene Demby. He told Joe Shapiro last night that he knew Alexis and his sister - he was friends with his sisters. He was riding with one of his sisters in a taxi about six or seven years ago; and listen to Gene talk about this phone call she got from her brother.

GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: She took a phone call, and she started to get really quiet and started to cry a little bit. Her brother just called her, and he was talking crazy. And I was like, what do you mean? And she said he was incoherent. He said that people were out to get him. I mean, she was really unnerved. Like, she was really clearly unsettled by it.

MONTAGNE: So Danny, clearly, a lot more to learn about Aaron Alexis.

ZWERDLING: And here's one of the most striking things about him. You know how it's fairly easy these days, in just a few hours, to learn a lot about somebody just by going on the Internet, right? Facebook - you learn who their friends are, or what trips they've taken, what tweets they've been writing, and what they've been reading. But Aaron Alexis made hardly any footprints out there in the digital world. I mean, there's just almost no sign of him.

MONTAGNE: So he's a mystery - at least, for now. NPR's Daniel Zwerdling, thanks very much.

ZWERDLING: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.