An undated FBI handout image of Aaron Alexis, who has been identified as the slain suspected gunman of the Washington Navy Yard shooting spree in Washington, DC.
The man accused of killing 12 people in a gun rampage at the Washington Navy Yard was described by mystified friends and family as a Buddhist and Thai speaker who, in the words of one friend, “could not be the shooter.”
The alleged gunman, Aaron Alexis of Fort Worth, Texas, was killed after repeatedly exchanging gunfire with officers, police said. There was little information on a motive, but hours after the shootings an early profile began to emerge.
According to NBC News sources, Alexis had been treated multiple times for psychological issues, including sleep deprivation, anger and paranoia. Most recently they said he had been treated at a VA Hospital in New England.
Alexis, 34, served in the U.S. Navy between May 2007 and January 2011, when he was discharged, a Navy spokeswoman said. More recently, he had served as a Naval reservist and had been working as a civilian contractor.
But investigators were looking into claims that he recently lost that position, which they say may have set him off.
Alexis' father said his son was studying while working a computer job
Michael Thacker, a spokesman for Hewlett-Packard, confirmed that Alexis worked for a company called "The Experts," a subcontractor working on an HP Enterprise Services job to refresh networking equipment for the Navy Marine Corps intranet. Thacker could not say whether Alexis was still employed by that company at the time of his death.
Law enforcement sources told NBC News that Alexis had come to Washington, D.C. in recent days and was one of six contractors on the IT project. He and five coworkers on the project were staying at the Residence Inn, the sources said.
Credit: Courtesy Kristi Suthamtewakul
Aaron Alexis sits with other people in an undated photo. EDITOR's NOTE: All other faces except for Alexis' have been intentionally blurred.
Alexis' military service appears to have been unremarkable: He was given the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, two awards of relatively minor distinction, before his discharge. The spokeswoman had no other details on the grounds for his discharge.
In Texas, a former roommate, Oui Suthamtewakul, said he did not think Alexis had a beef with the military or the government, and that he “could not be the shooter.”
Suthamtewakul, who owns a Thai restaurant in Fort Worth, said he had kept in touch with Alexis via text in the four months since he had left Fort Worth for Washington.
Michael Ritrobato, a handyman at the restaurant where Alexis worked as a waiter, described Alexis as a friend, a good-natured person he had never seen angry. Ritrobato said Alexis did like to play violent online video games, the kind, he said, where you shoot people.
Alexis’ father, Algernon Alexis, seemed stunned.
“This comes as a complete shock,” he told a reporter for the Reuters news service, then asked how he could reach authorities leading the investigation. The father said his son was studying and working the computer job for a private company.
Anthony Little, whose wife Naomi Alexis is the suspected gunman’s sister, said the family is "distraught"
Little confirmed that Aaron Alexis’ mother, Cathleen Alexis is being questioned by the FBI at their Brooklyn, N.Y., home.
Alexis did have at least two run-ins with the law on a gun problem: Prosecutors in Texas said he was arrested in September 2010 by Fort Worth police on an accusation that he recklessly discharged a gun, a misdemeanor there. Investigators later determined that Alexis was cleaning a gun when it accidentally fired, sending a bullet into the apartment upstairs, prosecutors said.
Alexis told police he was cleaning his gun while he was cooking, and his hands were slippery. Prosecutors determined that there wasn’t enough evidence of recklessness to bring a case.
In 2004, Alexis was charged with malicious mischief by Seattle police after he shot out the tires of a construction workers vehicle. Those charges were dropped, but a Seattle officer said Alexis admitted to shooting the vehicle because the worker had disrespected him. Alexis told the officer he was present during the events of 9/11 and that they had "disturbed" him, according the Seattle PD incident report.
Alexis maintained addresses in Manhattan and Queens from the late 1990s through 2002, and is still a registered voter in New York. According to a deleted LinkedIn profile, he attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and worked for a tech firm.
After enlisting in New York, he graduated from boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill., as an airman recruit.
This image released by the FBI shows the poster seeking more information on Aaron Alexis, who police believe was a gunman at the Washington Navy Yard shooting in Washington, Monday morning, Sept. 16, 2013, and who killed after he fired on a police officer. At least one gunman launched an attack inside the Washington Navy Yard, spraying gunfire on office workers in the cafeteria and in the hallways at the heavily secured military installation in the heart of the nation's capital, authorities said. (AP Photo/FBI)
He was classified as an aviation electrician’s mate — a petty officer third class — and served at the Naval Air Station in Fort Worth, Texas, at the time of his discharge, the spokeswoman said.
Authorities said they used fingerprints to identify him, and said he may have used someone else’s identification to get into the office building.
A shotgun used in the shooting was purchased just last week at gun store in Lorton, Va., authorities said.
Authorities said they believe that Alexis then picked up two other weapons — a handgun and an AR-15-style assault weapon — during the shooting spree, taking the sidearm from a police officer he shot and another from a gunsafe or other secure location.
The FBI is asking for public assistance to learn more about what the suspected gunman's motive may have been:
"No piece is information is too small. We're looking to learn everything we can about his recent movements, his contacts, and his associates," the FBI said.
Pete Williams, Charles Hadlock and Jeff Black of NBC News contributed to this report.
First published September 16 2013, 6:48 PM