The suspect in Monday’s Navy Yard shootings had North Texas connections – and a checkered past.
Friends described Aaron Alexis, a discharged Navy reservist who lived and worked in Fort Worth, as a nice guy who was interested in Buddhism and Thai culture.
Alexis, 34, told them that he liked guns and was a good shooter. His shooting got him into trouble with police: He was arrested in Fort Worth and Seattle in separate gun-related incidents.
He worked for a few years at the Naval Air Station Fort Worth. He was also a waiter at a suburban restaurant, Happy Bowl Thai in White Settlement. It might have been the most-mentioned restaurant in the country Monday, as media swarmed the aging strip center with hand-painted signs to interview people who knew the alleged gunman.
Kristi Kinard Suthamtewakul, whose husband runs the restaurant and was Alexis's best friend, said: "He was an unhappy vet. Let's just put it that way. He felt slighted by benefits. He felt slighted by the government."
Another friend at the restaurant, Michael Ritrovato, was shocked by his friend's apparent role in the shootings. While Alexis talked about guns and played shooter video games, Ritrovato never saw his friend with a gun and never saw him shoot. Alexis, he said, was an easygoing guy who wanted a better life.
“Aaron didn’t seem like the kind of person who would do something like this,” Ritrovato said. “He wanted to do better and from what I understood he was doing better the last time I spoke to him.”
Alexis had recently visited Thailand and had been to Japan with a computer defense contractor, where he worked in information technology, said Sandy Guerra-Cline, who frequented the restaurant and works at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“He is not a guy that talked about guns or talked about anything violent,” Guerra-Cline told the newspaper. “As a matter of fact, my best memories of him were of him sitting at one of the tables at Happy Bowl trying to teach himself Thai.”
Alexis visited the Wat Budsaya temple to meditate.
"We are all shocked,” Ty Thairintr, who also attends the temple, told the Associated Press. “We are nonviolent. Aaron was a very good practitioner of Buddhism. He could chant better than even some of the Thai congregants."
But police reports indicate a confrontational man who had run-ins with the law.
In 2010, Fort Worth police arrested Alexis after he fired a gun into an upstairs apartment on Oak Hill Road. A bullet shot through the floor of the apartment, just a few feet from where a woman was shredding papers. She told police that Alexis had confronted her earlier, complaining that she was making too much noise. The victim told police that she was “terrified” by him.
Alexis told police that he was cleaning his gun when it accidentally went off. No charges were filed, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office said in a statement.
Several years earlier, in 2004, he was arrested in Seattle for shooting the tires of a neighbor’s vehicle. He walked out of the home where he was staying, pulled a gun from his waistband and fired three shots into the tires.
But Alexis told detectives he couldn’t remember firing his gun for an hour afterward because he had an "anger-fueled blackout."
Alexis told police that he helped rescue New Yorkers during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and that the events “disturbed him.” He had anger management issues associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, his father told police.
The Navy says that Alexis had worked for the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron No. 46 in Fort Worth. He was a full-time reservist from 2007 to 2011, working in Fort Worth from 2008 until he left the Navy. He received two service medals during his service. But he was discharged after several disciplinary issues and having a "pattern of misconduct," a Navy officer told The Los Angeles Times.
The Washington Post reported that Alexis apparently was issued a government contractor access card that allowed him into the Navy Yard and other military installations. Thomas Hoshko, chief executive of the company he worked for, called The Experts, said Alexis was updating computer systems at military installations. His security clearance was updated in July and he was scheduled to begin work at the Navy Yard this month, The Post reported.
It’s not clear what caused Alexis to go on a spree that shocked the nation’s capital, shutting down U.S. Senate buildings and postponing the Nationals baseball game.
Anthony Little, the suspect's brother-in-law, told The New York Times Monday in Brooklyn that it had been five years since his wife had spoken to her brother.
“No one saw it coming, no one knew anything, so all of this is just shocking,” he said.