WASHINGTON — The one question we all desperately want answered may have gone to the grave with Aaron Alexis: Why?
Why did he park at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, walk into Building 197, perch himself on an overlook above the atrium and open fire? The bullets that rained down killed 12 people and wounded eight others.
But that’s not the only missing puzzle piece. Investigators are painstakingly trying to piece together the motive, the means and the method.
“No piece of information is too small,” said Valerie Parlave of the FBI said Monday night. “We are looking to learn everything we can about his recent movements, his contacts and associates.”
For now, here’s what we know and what we don’t know.
What we know: The shooting rampage ended with the 34-year-old Alexis’ death.
What we don’t know: How Alexis died. Authorities say he was killed after an encounter with security. We’ve yet to learn the details.
What we know: There were no indications that Alexis had any ideological differences with the Navy or any disagreements with anyone at the Navy Yard, a U.S. law enforcement official said.
What we don’t know: Was it about pay? He was very frustrated with the company that contracted him to work for the Navy, according to a friend. Alexis claimed he wasn’t paid properly by the company after returning from a months-long assignment to Japan last year, said Michael Ritrovato, a former roommate. It was unclear whether the dispute was over salary or expenses. Alexis just felt the company owed him money and had not paid him, Ritrovato said.
A SECOND MAN?
What we know: Throughout the day, authorities said they were looking for a second man. But by nightfall, they said they were “confident” that Alexis was the lone gunman. “We have exhausted all means to eliminate that possible last suspect,” said Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier. “So we do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside of the base.”
What we don’t know: At the same news conference, just a few minutes before Lanier spoke, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray muddied the picture. “We continue to pursue the possibility of there being another shooter,” he said. “We don’t have any evidence, any indication at this stage that there was another shooter, even though we haven’t completely ruled that out.”
What we know: We know 12 people are dead — 11 at the scene, one at a hospital. We know their ages ranged from 46 to 73. Authorities released the names of seven victims late Monday. Three others were shot, but survived. Five more were hospitalized for contusions and chest pains, the mayor said.
What we don’t know: The names of the other five who died. We know that those killed were civilian workers or military contractors — but we have yet to find out more about them. What they did at the Yard, where they were at the time of the shooting, etc.
What we know: He was an IT contractor. He had medium security clearance, high enough to work at multiple Navy offices over the summer. He had an ID badge to enter the Navy Yard. His employer says the shooter jumped through all the right hoops. “Alexis had a security clearance that was updated in July, approved by military security service personnel,” said Thomas Hoshko, CEO at The Experts. “There is nothing that came up in all the searches.”
What we don’t know: But Alexis also had a “pattern of misconduct” and an arrest record. So, how did he get security clearance? Former Navy SEAL Cade Courtley says a poor or incomplete background check is to blame. “Most people when they get into that, they are given an interim clearance and that means that the background check hasn’t been done but it’s in the process of being done,” Courtley said. “He may have started out with an interim clearance and a background check should have been done.” The former SEAL says just running Alexis’ fingerprints would have turned up his arrest record. In Seattle, he fired several shots into the tires of a car during an altercation over construction near where he lived in 2004. There was also a weapons incident in Texas in 2010.
SECURITY AT THE YARD
What we know: Alexis drove onto the grounds of Navy Yard Monday morning with three weapons in his vehicle. He took the weapons out, proceeded into Building 197 and opened fire. He had access to the Yard because of his contracting work, and he used a valid pass to gain entry.
What we don’t know: Even to drive or walk onto the base, a person would be required to present credentials, said Navy Capt. Mark Vandroff. Building 197 has armed security at the door. How did he get the guns past them? Did cost cutting compromise Navy security? Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican and a member of Armed Forces Committee, thinks so. He wants a congressional briefing from the Pentagon inspector general on a Navy security audit that he says was released in the aftermath of Monday’s shooting.”It is my understanding that the IG report indicates the Navy may have implemented an unproven system in order to cut costs,” Turner says. “I also learned that potentially numerous felons may have been able to gain restricted access to several military installations across the country due to insufficient background checks, increasing the risk to our military personnel and civilian employees.”
What we know: The incident will certainly rev up the often explosive debate over gun control. But initial reports show Alexis obtained his primary weapon — an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle — legally.
What we don’t know: Will the shooting at Navy Yard change the political landscape? High-profile shootings over the last several years have done little to move the needle in Washington. President Obama pushed for universal background checks and other directives after the the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings, to cut down on the access Americans would have to firearms, but they never gained traction. At the state level, it’s been a similar story. The successful recall elections last week of two Colorado lawmakers who backed new gun restrictions sent a shiver through the gun-control lobby.
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