WASHINGTON -- U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged Wednesday there were "a lot of red flags" in the past of Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, and he ordered top-to-bottom reviews of background checks for security clearances and procedures for gaining access to U.S. military facilities worldwide.
Alexis' mother said she had no answers for why her son opened fire Monday morning and killed 12 people at the Navy Yard before he was slain by police.
"I don't know why he did what he did, and I'm not going to be able to ask him why," Cathleen Alexis told reporters. "Aaron is now in a place where he can no longer do harm to anyone, and for that I am glad. To families of the victims, I am so, so very sorry that this has happened. My heart is broken."
Countering earlier reports Alexis, 34, had been treated for mental-health problems, the Department of Veterans Affairs said he sought no such treatment after enrolling in the military's health-care system in February 2011. That was several months before he received an honourable discharge from the navy after serving four years as a reservist. Alexis could have seen mental-health counsellors outside the VA hospital and clinic system before or after enrolling in it.
Alexis did visit the emergency room at the VA Medical Center in Providence, R.I., four weeks ago, complaining of insomnia. He received sleeping pills, with instructions to have a followup exam by a doctor, the VA said. He went to the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C., five days later, on Aug. 28, blamed his insomnia on his work schedule and received a refill, according to the VA.
Alexis' visit to the Rhode Island hospital on Aug. 23 came 16 days after police in Newport, R.I., visited him at a Marriott hotel about his complaints three people had followed him from Virginia "to keep him awake by talking to him and sending vibrations into his body," according to a police report.
Since last December, he had been receiving military disability benefits of $395 a month for orthopedic problems and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, the VA said.
From 2004 to 2010, before and during his navy service, Alexis was arrested three times in three states, twice for suspicious gun discharges. Yet he received a "Secret" security clearance in 2008 that was not revoked as he left the navy and later took a job as a computer technician at the Navy Yard for The Experts, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based federal subcontractor.
"Obviously, there were a lot of red flags," Hagel said at a Pentagon news briefing. "Why they didn't get picked (up), why they didn't get incorporated into the clearance process, what he was doing -- those are all legitimate questions that we're going to be dealing with. How do we fix it?"
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on federal contractors, expressed concern Alexis' security clearance was good for 10 years and remained in effect despite his run-ins with police and signs of mental problems.
McCaskill, along with Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, wrote a letter Wednesday to Patrick McFarland, inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management, asking who had performed Alexis' security screenings, when they were done and whether they'd given proper scrutiny to his "pattern of misconduct."
-- McClatchy Washington Bureau