WASHINGTON, D.C. — Through a wall at his Rhode Island hotel, Aaron Alexis could hear them — voices harassing him, wanting to harm him. He couldn’t sleep. He believed people were following him, using a microwave machine to send vibrations to his body. He changed hotels once, then again. But he called police and told them he couldn’t get away from the voices.
On Aug. 7, police alerted officials at the Newport Naval Station about the naval defense contractor’s call. But officers didn’t hear from him again.
By Aug. 25, Alexis had left the state. The 34-year-old arrived in the Washington area, continuing his work as an information technology employee for a defense-related computer company. Again, he spent nights in different hotels. He suffered from serious mental problems, including paranoia and a sleep disorder, and was undergoing treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the law enforcement officials.
But Alexis wasn’t stripped of his security clearance, and he kept working.
On Saturday, he visited Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in Lorton, Va., about 18 miles southwest of the nation’s capital. He rented a rifle, bought bullets and took target practice at the 16-lane indoor range, then bought a shotgun and 24 shells, according to the store’s attorney.
Two days later, as the workweek dawned, Alexis entered the sprawling Washington Navy Yard, a 41-acre labyrinth of buildings protected by armed guards and metal detectors where employees must show IDs to get past doors and gates. Authorities believe he drove a rental car there.
He was equipped with his pass for base access — and the shotgun. He stepped inside the massive Building 197, home to some 3,000 employees. He opened fire around 8:15 a.m., raining shotgun blasts down from a fourth-floor overlook and third-floor hallway into a glass-walled cafeteria where employees were eating breakfast. Trained tactical officers arrived, bursting through the building within seven minutes of the first 911 call, and Alexis shot at them, too.