WASHINGTON — FBI Director James Comey said Thursday evidence suggests that Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis carried out his rampage without targeting a particular person and there’s no sign that he had accomplices.
The Sept. 16 shootings left 12 people dead, not counting Alexis, who was killed by security personnel. Comey said that Wednesday he visited the team that is gathering evidence at the Navy Yard building where the shootings occurred, and that he had reviewed videos.
“It appears to me that he was wandering the halls and hunting people to shoot,” Comey told reporters at the FBI headquarters in Washington. “He appears to be moving without particular direction or purpose,” and didn’t seem to be “looking for a particular person or a particular group.”
Alexis, a 34-year-old Navy contractor, entered the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters with a valid pass and had a secret clearance even though he had an arrest record, a troubled military career and a history of mental illness. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged Wednesday that the military failed to pick up “red flags” in Alexis’s background.
Hagel said authorities would investigate and plug holes in security at facilities worldwide, and weaknesses in the clearance procedures that allow access to them.
Comey, 52, who took office Sept. 4 to serve a 10-year-term at the FBI, said investigators haven’t determined whether Alexis said anything during the shootings or whether he had any grievances about his job.
“We’re attempting to understand as best we can his life up until the moment of that shooting, which would include whether there were issues related to work,” the FBI director said.
Alexis entered the Navy building with a Remington 870 shotgun that was sawed off at both ends — the barrel and the stock, Comey said. He went to a fourth-floor restroom carrying a bag, and came out without the bag and carrying the shotgun, the director said.
Almost immediately, Alexis began shooting people on the fourth floor, then on the third floor and then he went to the lobby, where he shot a security guard and took the guard’s Beretta semi-automatic pistol, Comey said. After Alexis ran out of ammunition for the shotgun, he began shooting with the pistol, the director said.
Security officials cornered Alexis and there was a “sustained exchange” of gunfire in which he was killed, Comey said. The director said he couldn’t characterize what wounds Alexis suffered or how many.
The Department of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday that Alexis twice requested emergency treatment for insomnia in the month before the shooting. That was just a few weeks after he had summoned police to his Rhode Island hotel room complaining that he was hearing voices and being stalked by unseen harassers — prompting a concerned officer to alert the local naval station.
There’s no evidence any of the incidents set off alarms. The Navy has found no sign that the police officer’s warning was communicated up the chain of command, a Navy official said yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity about a continuing investigation. The VA said Alexis told its doctors he wasn’t having thoughts about harming himself or others.
Comey declined to say when Alexis decided to carry out the shootings, and he didn’t disclose what information investigators have found among his possessions, including electronics.
“We’re doing a lot of work to understand” that information, the FBI director said. He also said the FBI’s behavioral unit would study this case and others to try to find ways to identify potential mass shooters before they act.“Are there things, are there flags, are there markers that would be of use to preventing tragedies like this?” Comey said. “I don’t know the answer to that at this point.”
As federal law enforcement and military officials carried out sweeping inquiries into the shooting, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus Thursday asking why Alexis received an honorable discharge even though he had a “pattern of misconduct.” (See related story.)
“Had Alexis received a general discharge, future employers would have been more likely to give his background extra scrutiny,” Ayotte, a member of the Armed Services Committee, wrote. “This additional scrutiny may have helped potential employers identify Alexis’ reported arrests in three states and better informed their hiring decisions.”
Hagel Wednesday told reporters at the Pentagon that there would be separate reviews, by the Defense Department and an independent panel, of military facility security and the clearance process.
“Where there are gaps, we will close them; where there are inadequacies, we will address them; and where there are failures, we will correct them,” the defense secretary said.
President Barack Obama plans to attend a memorial service on Sept. 22 to honor those killed at the Navy Yard.