Aaron Alexis, the former Navy reservist who killed 12 people Monday at the Washington Navy Yard, was arrested by Seattle police in 2004 for using a .45-caliber pistol to shoot out the tires of a construction worker’s car in what he later described as an anger-fueled “blackout,” police said.
Alexis attributed the incident to trauma he suffered after witnessing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that brought down the twin towers in New York, where he once lived, according to a Seattle police report.
It was one of at least two incidents involving a handgun that landed Alexis in trouble with the law in the years before police say he opened fire in the Navy Yard, killing 12 and wounding 14 before he was killed in a gunbattle with officers.
Alexis grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his mother, Cathleen, and father, Anthony Alexis, his aunt Helen Weekes, of Seattle, told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “We haven’t seen him for years. I know he was in the military. He served abroad. I think he was doing some kind of computer work.”
Alexis, 34, served in the Navy Reserve from 2007 through 2011, according to Navy spokeswoman Lt. Megan Shutka. More recently, he worked for a defense contractor called The Experts, but it was unclear if Alexis was still employed by that subcontractor or if his work had brought him to the Navy Yard.
Alexis lived in Seattle in 2004 and 2005, as well as Bellevue and Fort Worth, Texas, public records show.
In Seattle, Alexis lived in a small, wood-frame home on 13th Avenue South on the west slope of Seattle’s Beacon Hill. Nobody answered the telephone or door, although blinds that were open when reporters first arrived were later closed. A barking dog could be heard inside.
Neighbors said they did not know Alexis.
According to Seattle police, at 8 a.m. on May 6, 2004, two construction workers had parked their 1986 Honda Accord in the driveway of their worksite, next to Alexis’ home. The workers were at the construction site when a man, later identified as Alexis, walked out of the home, pulled a gun from his waistband and fired two rounds into the rear tires and a third into the air before slowly walking back home.
Police collected three spent .45-caliber shell casings at the site.
Alexis had a valid Washington concealed-carry permit for a .45-caliber Glock pistol, according to the police report. Detectives later found the pistol and ammunition in a bedroom in Alexis’ home.
Alexis “confessed to the crime of discharging his weapon for the purpose of shooting out the tires” on the car, the report said.
After his arrest on June 3, 2004, Alexis told detectives he perceived that he had been mocked by the victims before the shooting, after he discovered his own car had been tampered with earlier that morning. Alexis said he had been “disrespected,” leading to a “blackout” fueled by anger, according to the police report.
Alexis said he could not remember firing his gun at the vehicle until an hour later, police said.
Alexis, who was booked into jail for investigation of malicious mischief, a misdemeanor, also told police he was present during “the tragic events of September 11, 2001,” and described “how those events had disturbed him,” according to the police report.
Detectives later spoke with Alexis’ father, who lived in New York at the time. He told police his son had anger-management problems associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and that Alexis had been an active participant in rescue attempts on Sept. 11, police said.
Workers and the manager at the construction site told police Alexis had “stared” at workers over the previous month. The owner of the construction business told police he believed Alexis was angry over the parking situation at the site.
Police said in a news release Monday they referred the case to Seattle Municipal Court — although it is the City Attorney’s Office, not the court, that handles misdemeanor charging decisions.
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office said Monday that it never received a police report documenting the malicious mischief.
“Thus, we didn’t review it for possible charges,” spokeswoman Kimberly Mills said in an email.
The malicious-mischief case appears in a public database maintained by King County District Court, which handles misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases. An entry, however, states that the file was deleted a year later, on June 7, 2005, and there are no records available for viewing.
After his arrest, Alexis made a first appearance in court on June 4, 2004, handled by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, said Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the office. At the hearing, Alexis was released on his personal recognizance with conditions, Donohoe said.
Alexis appeared in court again three days later but was released when no charges were referred by Seattle police to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which normally handles felony charging decisions.
Seattle police did not provide further explanation Monday.
Details about Alexis’ employment in the years before he joined the Navy Reserve were not immediately available. He appears to have held a job in Washington long enough to qualify for state unemployment benefits.
According to court records, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) determined in April 2007 that he had been overpaid $724. His enlistment date in the Navy was three weeks later.
In October 2007, the state filed a lien against him in Thurston County Superior Court, listing a Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment as Alexis’ address.
Alexis has been in financial trouble, as well, court records show. In July 2008, he enrolled in a debt-management program through the Navy Federal Credit Union to deal with seven creditors, including the ESD. His monthly net income was listed as $1,393 and his living expenses as $675.
He satisfied the ESD debt in April 2010, records show.
Records show Alexis was involved in a two-car collision on northbound Interstate 405 in March 2005 and that he had no insurance at the time. He was fined $600.
Six years after the Seattle incident, Alexis again got in trouble for discharging a handgun, at The Orion Oak Hills apartments in Fort Worth on Sept. 5, 2010, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Alexis later told police the gun had gone off while he was cleaning it.
“He said that he was trying to clean his gun while cooking and that his hands were slippery. He told me that he began to take the gun apart when his hands slipped and pulled the trigger, discharging a round into the ceiling,” the police report states.
Police arrested Alexis on suspicion of discharging a firearm in a municipality, a Class A misdemeanor.
Under Texas law, the case didn’t constitute recklessness, so a case was not filed, Melody McDonald, a spokeswoman with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, told the Star-Telegram.
In Fort Worth, Alexis worked as a waiter at a Thai restaurant, studied the language and regularly chanted and meditated at Buddhist temples, the newspaper said.
Seattle Times Investigations Editor James Neff, staff reporters Sara Jean Green and Andrew Garber and news researchers Miyoko Wolf and Gene Balk contributed to this story, which includes information from The Associated Press.