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Who Was Aaron Alexis? Records Offer Clues Of Instability

The FBI is asking the public to help fill in the profile of Aaron Alexis.
The FBI is asking the public to help fill in the profile of Aaron Alexis.

Focusing only on public documents and on-the-record statements paints a complicated picture of the man police say walked into a building at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday and shot dead 12 people before being killed himself.

Thirty-four-year-old Aaron Alexis, as we reported Monday, "was a former full-time Navy reservist who had obtained a concealed-carry permit in Texas and was arrested three years ago for illegally discharging a weapon."

But he was also an aviation electrician's mate third class in the U.S. Navy Reserve who received an honorable discharge in January 2011.

The honorable discharge, however, came despite a "checkered four-year career ... a period marked by repeated run-ins with his military superiors and the law ... according to documents and Navy officials," says The Washington Post.

Media reports also paint a picture of a man potentially struggling with mental illness. A police report obtained by NPR, offers a narrative of a disturbing incident in which Alexis complained of "hearing voices."

Still, Alexis was able to get that honorable discharge and "received the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal, awards of minor distinction," the Post adds.

Friends, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, say he "regularly meditated at a local Buddhist temple, was unfailingly courteous and never showed signs of the violence that is now his legacy. ... 'When he lived at my house, I never saw him get angry about anything,' [said a former landlord, Somsak Srisan]. 'My feeling is, if he was angry about anything, he didn't show that to me.' "

But he was also, as The Seattle Times writes, arrested in 2004 "for shooting out the tires of a construction worker's car in what Alexis later described as an anger-fueled 'blackout.' "

Then four years later, in DeKalb County, Ga., Alexis spent two nights in jail after being cited for disorderly conduct following a disturbance at a nightclub. As the citation (online here) shows, the arresting officer wrote that even though he told Alexis "several times" to stop swearing, the F-bombs and other profanity continued.

Another friend in Fort Worth, however, has fond memories of Alexis "sitting at one of the tables at Happy Bowl [a restaurant] trying to teach himself Thai."

Alexis' family, CNN notes, is in disbelief:

"What I do know is he wasn't that type of person," Anthony Little, who identified himself as Alexis' brother-in-law, told reporters outside his Brooklyn, New York, home. "I didn't really hear anything that would make me feel, as a newcomer to the family, that somebody should be watching him. ...

"You know, they didn't see it coming," said Little, who is married to Alexis' sister Naomi. "Their hearts are going out more to the victims and the people that got hurt because, you know, there's more lives lost and we don't need that right now. We really don't."

Note: We are aware there are many other, anonymously sourced, stories out today about Alexis. For now, as we said, we're focusing on what's in the public record and what's being said on-the-record. We'll add more as solid information comes in.

Update at 3:33 p.m. ET. Hearing Voices:

According to a police report obtained by NPR's Emma Anderson, Alexis called Newport (R.I.) Police on August 7, 2013 from his hotel room saying three men had been sent to harass him.

Alexis "believes that the individual that he got into an argument with has sent 3 people to follow him and keep him awake by talking to him and sending vibrations into his body," the report reads.

The men, Alexis told police, were sent by an "unknown party" whom Alexis allegedly had a verbal altercation with "while getting onto his flight from Virginia to Rhode Island."

According to the report, Alexis told the officer that he had moved from one hotel to a Navy base and then to a third hotel because the voices were following him.

Alexis told police that the individuals were using "'some sort of microwave machine' to send vibrations through the ceiling, penetrating his body so he cannot fall asleep."

Alexis told police that he did not have a history of mental illness and he had never felt this way before.

Police advised him that if he saw the people in question, he should call police again. According to the police report, Sgt. Frank C. Rosa Jr. reported the contact with Alexis to the Navy base. He told the base that Alexis was "hearing voices."

We've embedded the full report below:

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.