The California man who was killed in a shootout with Pentagon police had a history of mental illness and had become so erratic that his parents reached out to local authorities weeks ago with a warning that he was unstable and might have a gun, authorities said Friday.
It's still unclear why John Patrick Bedell opened fire Thursday at the Pentagon entrance, wounding two police officers before he was fatally shot. The two officers were hospitalized briefly with minor injuries.
Bedell was diagnosed as bipolar, or manic depressive, and had been in and out of treatment programs for years. His psychiatrist, J. Michael Nelson, said Bedell tried to self-medicate with marijuana, inadvertently making his symptoms more pronounced.
"Without the stabilizing medication, the symptoms of his disinhibition, agitation and fearfullness complicated the lack of treatment," Nelson said.
His parents reported him missing Jan. 4, a day after a Texas Highway Patrol officer stopped him for speeding in Amarillo, according to the missing person's report. Bedell told the highway patrolman he was heading for the East Coast, and the officer used Bedell's phone to call his mother, Kaye Bedell, because he seemed disheveled and out of sorts.
Family friend Reb Monaco said Kaye Bedell asked the officer to take him to a mental health facility, but that the son refused. The patrolman let Bedell go with a warning. The next day, Kaye told deputies in California that her son had no reason to travel to the East Coast because he had no friends or family there and she and her husband were worried about his mental state, San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hill said.
Hill also said Bedell's parents found an e-mail from their son that indicated he had made a $600 purchase from a shooting range in the Sacramento area that could have been a gun or ammunition.
The 36-year-old Bedell returned to his parent's home Jan. 18, telling them "not to ask any questions" about where he had been. But he left after that, and his parents didn't know where he went.
Little is known about his trip east, but authorities know he spent time in Reno, where Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley said he was arrested on Feb. 1 with two ounces of marijuana in his car but no weapons.
The Bedell family put out a statement Friday saying they were "devastated as a family by the news."
"We may never know why he made this terrible decision," the statement said. "One thing is clear though — his actions were caused by an illness and not a defective character."
The San Jose Mercury News reported Bedell attended San Jose State University and was enrolled in fall 2009 in the graduate electrical engineering program. He did not enroll for 2010. A professor remembered him as one of the best circuit design students in his class, the newspaper said.
Investigators were trying to unravel a bizarre series of Internet postings that suggested Bedell was fascinated with conspiracy theories, computer programming, libertarian economics and the science of warfare.
Curiously, Bedell also proposed in 2004 that the Pentagon fund his own research on smart weapons. The 28-page proposal outlined his idea for DNA nanotechnology research that might "provide significant new capabilities for the Department of Defense and the individual warfighter."
That document is the first tangible link to surface connecting Bedell and the Pentagon.
Dressed to kill?
On the day of the attack, Bedell left his green, 12-year-old Toyota in a nearby mall parking garage.
The 6-foot tall software devotee approached the Pentagon entrance Thursday evening wearing a jacket, dress shirt and pants, seeming like any other end-of-the-day commuter.
Bedell, the officials say, opened fire with a 9 mm handgun just five feet from the nearest officer, Marvin Carraway. Fellow officer Jefferey Amos ran out of a nearby guard booth to confront Bedell, as did a third, unidentified officer. All three officers gave chase and fired at Bedell, who was struck in the head and left arm.
Witness Dan Namisi said he had just emerged from the Metro station, headed for a bus home, when he heard a "pop." The Uganda native hit the ground, and the next thing he knew, officers swarmed over him and put handcuffs on him.
Namisi says he was searched repeatedly, but officers didn't ask him many questions during the three hours they held him. He said he may have attracted attention because he cut one of his hands when he dropped to the ground and the hand was bloody.
"I'm still very traumatized by it," Namisi said in a telephone interview. "In my experience they don't put you in a police car unless you're in trouble."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday called the two wounded officers to express his "appreciation for their service, their bravery and their professionalism," said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.
Gates was not at the Pentagon at the time of the shooting because he was attending meetings at the White House.
The assault at the very threshold of the Pentagon — the U.S. capital's ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001 — came four months after a deadly attack on the Army's Fort Hood, Texas, post allegedly by a U.S. Army psychiatrist with radical Islamic leanings.
Hatred of the government motivated a man in Texas last month to fly a small plane into a building housing Internal Revenue Service offices, killing an IRS employee and himself.
The shooting resembled one in January in which a gunman walked up to the security entrance of a Las Vegas courthouse and opened fire with a shotgun, killing one officer and wounding another before being gunned down in return fire.