A man with a shotgun relieved two professional security guards of their handguns Monday and went on a killing rampage at the Washington Navy Yard.
Before police ended the shooting spree and the shooter’s life, Aaron Alexis, 34, had ended the lives of 12 people, some while they were eating breakfast in the courtyard cafeteria of the supposedly secure facility.
Like many mass killers, Alexis, in retrospect, gave telltale warning signs of trouble to come, but these appear to have been missed or rationalized away.
His career as a Navy reservist was cut short when he was discharged after nearly four years for general misconduct – reportedly insubordination, absenteeism and disorderly conduct. The Navy Reserve did him a favor by granting him an honorable discharge in January 2011. A general discharge is a red flag to employers.
Alexis had friends, unlike many mass murderers, and they said he was never without a gun.
In 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas, Alexis fired a shot into his floor at the apartment of a neighbor with whom he’d been feuding. His feeble excuse to police was that his hands were greasy from cooking and the gun discharged accidentally.
Six years earlier in Seattle, Alexis shot out the tires of a parked car being used by some construction workers he felt had disrespected him.
He came to the Washington Navy Yard to work on a computer project for a Defense Department subcontractor. Officials told The Associated Press that, since last month, he’d sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs for serious mental issues, including paranoia, insomnia and hearing voices.
Clearly, there were signs of a slow-motion mental breakdown that culminated in the random murders of a dozen innocent people whose only offense was to show up for work. If only we had the mechanisms to detect and treat mental illness.
The Navy Yard massacre represents the seventh time in a decade that a gunman has killed 10 or more in a shooting. It happened just nine months after a deranged gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Each killing elicits demands from the public that the government take some kind of action. Each time, the outrage blows over – until the next time.
One day, perhaps soon, the public will demand a patch to the gaping holes in our mental-health safety net.