Aaron Alexis lived for a time in a bungalow in the woods near a Buddhist temple in Fort Worth, where he occasionally joined Thai immigrants in meditation. Aaron Alexis died Monday in a gun battle with police at the Washington Navy Yard after he allegedly killed at least 12 people.
Along the way, the man named as the shooter in Monday’s mass killing at Building 197 was discharged from the Navy Reserve, arrested after firing a bullet through his upstairs neighbor’s floor and then asked to leave his Fort Worth apartment.
One Navy official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Alexis was discharged in January 2011 for “a pattern of misconduct” and that the 2010 gun incident in Texas played a role in his departure.
But Alexis, 34, had no trouble landing a civilian job. He moved from Fort Worth to Washington about a month ago, friends said, and was hired as an hourly tech employee for The Experts, a Hewlett-Packard subcontractor that is updating computer systems at Navy and Marine Corps installations worldwide. He was scheduled to begin work at the Washington Navy Yard this month.
Those who knew Alexis in recent years describe him as a “sweet and intelligent guy” (a regular customer at the Thai restaurant where he had been a waiter) and “a good boy” (his landlord), but also as “very aggressive,” someone who seemed as though he might one day kill himself (a lay worker at the Buddhist temple where Alexis worshiped).
That angry streak flared often enough to create an arrest record in three states.
In 2004, Alexis was arrested in Seattle after he fired three shots from a Glock pistol into the tires of a Honda Accord that two construction workers had parked in a driveway adjacent to Alexis’s house. Alexis’s father told detectives then that his son “had experienced anger management problems that the family believed was associated with PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the police report. The father said Alexis had been “an active participant in rescue attempts of Sept. 11, 2001.”
Alexis’s explanation for his behavior that day: The construction workers had “mocked” and “disrespected” him and then he had “a black-out fueled by anger.”
He was arrested but not charged, Seattle police said. The paperwork apparently was lost.
“That report never got to the Seattle city attorney’s office,” said Kimberly Mills, a spokeswoman for the city attorney. “Consequently, we never filed charges.”
In 2008, Alexis was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge in DeKalb County, Ga. He spent two nights in jail, police said, but they had no other details.
More recently, Alexis struck those who crossed his path as a man of sharp contrasts. He was learning the Thai language, visited Thailand for a month, was studying for an online degree in aeronautical engineering, and enjoyed conversing with diners, according to friends, customers and fellow worshipers. But some said he had an aggressive streak that made them keep their distance and avoid personal questions.
“He’s a 13-year-old stuck in a 34-year-old body,” said Oui Suthamtewakul, owner of the Happy Bowl Thai restaurant in White Settlement, Tex., and a friend who lived with Alexis for most of the past three years. “He needs attention.”
Alexis often worked as an unpaid waiter for Suthamtewakul and his wife, Kristi, but lived with them rent-free. The couple described Alexis as a helpful, chatty guy who liked to watch cooking shows on TV.
“He always hit on girls,” Suthamtewakul said, adding that he had to scold his friend for being too forward with female customers.
Suthamtewakul said Alexis “had a gun at all times” and fired a bullet through the wall of his room in the summer of 2012. “You’re gonna kill me,” the restaurateur told his friend. Alexis apologized and said it was an accident.
Alexis drank alcohol frequently and in large quantities, Suthamtewakul said: “He can start drinking at 9:30 in the morning. He drinks often and for fun, but it was never a problem.” Asked what he will remember about his friend, Suthamtewakul said, “Him with a Heineken.”
Alexis grew up in Brooklyn with his parents, Cathleen and Anthony Alexis, said his aunt Helen Weekes. “We haven’t seen him for years,” she said.
He spent nearly four years in the Navy as a full-time reservist from May 2007 until January 2011, according to the Navy. A Navy official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Alexis received a general discharge for “misconduct” and that the 2010 firearms incident in Texas played a role in his departure.
Alexis achieved his final rank — aviation electrician’s mate 3rd class — in December 2009.
He spent the bulk of his service time — 2008 to 2011 — assigned to the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 46 at Naval Air Station Fort Worth, records show. He received the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal, awards of minor distinction.