Police looking for motive in Washington Navy Yard shooting | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 17.09.2013
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Police looking for motive in Washington Navy Yard shooting

Investigators are trying to determine what led a military veteran to open fire at a US Navy facility in Washington, killing twelve people. Authorities have also questioned how an armed man was able to enter the complex.

Navy officials said Tuesday that the suspected shooter in the deadly attack had received an honorable discharge from the US Navy Reserve in 2011, despite exhibiting a pattern of misconduct throughout his career.

Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old Navy contractor from Fort Worth, Texas, is suspected to have entered Washington's Navy Yard on Monday, killing 12 people before police shot him dead. The motivation behind the attack remains unclear.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) appealed to the public for any information that could help them piece together the shooting at the facility, located on the banks of the Anacostia River just a mile and a half (2.5 km) from the US Capitol building.

"No piece of information is too small," said Valerie Parlave, the assistant director of the FBI's Washington field office. "We are looking to learn everything we can about his recent movements, his contacts and his associates."

After initial saying that two additional shooters were suspected, police said late Monday they were convinced Alexis acted alone.

Honorable Navy discharge

Initial reports had said Alexis received a general discharge from the military - suggesting an unsatisfactory record - but officials said he had applied for and received an honorable discharge.

Navy officials told the Associated Press news agency that he had had misconduct problems during his 2007-2011 tenure, but the issues were not severe enough to warrant a general or less-than-honorable discharge. Instead, he reportedly was granted early discharge through a special program for enlisted personnel.

Alexis had also had two gun-related run-ins with the law. In 2010 he was arrested in Texas for unlawful discharge of a firearm, while in 2004 Seattle police arrested him for shooting out a construction worker's vehicle in an anger-fueled "blackout" that law enforcement believed was triggered by perceived "disrespect."

Questions over access

Military personnel are generally banned from carrying weapons from military installations, yet Alexis was allowed into the Navy Yard complex Monday while reportedly carrying an AR-15 military-style assault riffle, a double-barreled shotgun and a handgun. He is believed to have had the proper clearance, but was apparently not checked for firearms.

Alexis worked as a defense subcontractor for a company called "The Experts," which was working on a Hewlett-Packard contract to upgrade IT equipment used by the Marine Corps and Navy, HP said in a statement. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray expressed his surprise to broadcaster CNN that he was given a job that allowed him access to the facility.

"It's hard to believe that someone with a record as checkered as this man could get clearance, credentials, to get on the base," he said. "I just met with the commandant of the Washington Naval Yard last week. We know this is one of the most secure facilities in the nation. So how this could happen is beyond belief."

Monday's shooting was the deadliest at a military installation in the US since 2009 , when Army Major Nidal Hasan opened fire on unarmed soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 people and wounded 31 others.

dr/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)