UPDATE: The U.S. Navy on Tuesday ordered a review of security at all of its facilities as questions arose about how a former serviceman with a history of violence and mental illness received clearance to work at a base where he killed 12 people before police shot him dead.
The suspect, Aaron Alexis, 34, a Navy contractor from Fort Worth, Texas, entered Washington Navy Yard on Monday morning and opened fire, spreading panic at the base just a mile and a half from the U.S. Capitol and three miles from the White House.
Alexis’ employer said he worked in at least six installations in July and August without incident. Alexis was employed by a company called The Experts, a subcontractor for Hewlett-Packard that serviced computer equipment, the company said.
He had been given clearance to enter the base on the Anacostia River despite two gun-related brushes with the law and a discharge from the Navy Reserve in 2011 after a series of what a Navy official described as “misconduct issues.”
CNN reported that Alexis had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals recently and was believed to be seeking psychological help.
“It really is hard to believe that someone with a record as checkered as this man could conceivably get, you know, clearance to get … credentials to be able to get on the base,” Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told CNN.
In the wake of the latest mass shooting in the United States and questions about security at guarded buildings, U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Tuesday ordered a review of physical security at all Navy and Marine Corps installations.
A Navy official said authorities would first take a “quick look” at installations to ensure existing physical security standards are being met. The second review will be larger and more in-depth, the official said.
Investigators are still trying to determine the man’s motive for the shooting.
Separately, Congressman Michael Turner asked for Defense Department officials to release information on an inspector general’s audit of its system for controlling civilian workers’ access to military bases.
The Navy may have “implemented an unproven system in order to cut costs,” Turner, an Ohio Republican, said in a letter dated Monday to Lynne Halbrooks, the Pentagon’s acting inspector general.
“Potentially numerous felons may have been able to gain unrestricted access to several military installations across the country,” said Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Military personnel are generally banned from carrying weapons on bases in the United States but most people with proper credentials are not routinely checked for firearms.
Monday’s shooting was the worst attack at a base since U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan opened fire on unarmed soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, killing 13 people and wounding 31 others. Hasan, who said he acted in retaliation for U.S. wars in Muslim countries, was convicted and sentenced to death by a military jury in August.
In Monday’s rampage, Alexis entered the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters about 8:20 a.m. (1220 GMT) and started picking off victims in a cafeteria from a fourth-floor atrium, witnesses said. The dead were aged between 46 and 73. Eight others were hurt, including three with gunshot wounds. Alexis was killed in a gun battle with police, officials said.
Thomas Hoshko, chief executive of The Experts information technology firm that hired Alexis, said he had worked for the company at six or more U.S. military installations in July and August without any reported problems.
“He just recently had a background investigation and drug screen and … was going back to work at Washington Navy Yard with seven other IT contractors,” Hoshko said.
Hoshko was uncertain whether Alexis was still in training or had started a new job.
The background check normally required for a secret clearance – known as a National Agency Check – should have revealed Alexis’ record, though the incidents could have been downplayed or ignored because he was never convicted of a crime.
Alexis was arrested on September 4, 2010, in Fort Worth, Texas, on a misdemeanor charge of discharging a firearm, but prosecutors dropped the case.
He was also arrested in Seattle in 2004 for shooting out a construction worker’s car tires in an anger-fueled “blackout” triggered by perceived “disrespect,” police said. In 2008, he was cited for disorderly conduct in Dekalb County, Georgia, when he was kicked out of a club for damaging furnishings and cursing.
People who knew Alexis said they were shocked, describing him as a lover of Thai culture who worshipped at a Buddhist temple in Texas, although one acquaintance told reporters he had an unnatural affection for violent video games.
The base was closed to all but essential personnel on Tuesday. Military police were stationed at the four entrances, checking the identifications of the employees who were being allowed back in. Other personnel milled around outside, hoping to retrieve cars that remained locked inside the gates.
“I’ve never ever felt unsafe at this place,” said David Berlin, a civilian who works at the Navy Yard as an assistant program manager building weapons systems. “If someone wants to skirt the rules, they can do that, but you trust your colleagues.”