Massacre gunman had a history of mental illness and firearm arrests
The US Navy was facing tough questions last night after it emerged that the gunman who killed 12 people in the Washington Navy Yard was given a security clearance despite a recent history of mental illness and arrests for firing guns in anger.
Senior members of Congress demanded answers over the failed vetting of Aaron Alexis and called on the military to explain how the 34-year-old former Navy reservist turned civilian contractor was granted a "secret" level clearance.
As police finished formally identifying the victims of Monday's shooting rampage, US officials said that as recently as last month, Alexis had been treated in a veterans' hospital after hearing voices in his head.
Police reports also showed that Alexis had spent time in jail for disorderly conduct in 2008 and twice been arrested for shooting a gun in a moment of rage – in one incident sending a bullet through the roof of his flat in Texas after a row with a noisy neighbour.
"How could a man with that kind of a background end up getting the necessary security clearance for a military contractor to go into this navy yard?" Dick Durbin, a senior Democrat, demanded to know on the floor of the Senate.
The FBI confirmed that Alexis, who was working as an IT contractor upgrading computers for the Marine Corps, was able to use a legitimate work pass to drive into the Washington Navy Yard, one of the US Navy's five main command centres.
The US Navy also announced a worldwide review of security at its bases yesterday. Alexis appears to have begun his assault armed only with a shotgun that he purchased legally in the neighbouring state of Virginia last week.
He is now believed to have picked up an AR-15, the same semi-automatic rifle used in the Newtown massacre, and a Glock handgun during the shooting spree.
Investigators believe most of the killing was done with the AR-15.
The entrance pass was issued even though Alexis was undergoing treatment for paranoia, sleep disorders and had been hearing voices in his head.
It emerged last night that Alexis had also been cited for misconduct eight times during his four-year career as a Navy reservist, including one incident where he hurled obscenities after being thrown out of a nightclub.
"It really is hard to believe that someone with a record as checkered as this man could conceivably get, you know, clearance to get . . . credentials to be able to get on the base," Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said.
The Navy had not declared its defence contract employee mentally unfit, which would have rescinded a security clearance that Alexis had from his earlier time in the Navy Reserves.
The officials also said there has been no connection to international or domestic terrorism, and investigators have found no manifesto or other writings suggesting a political or religious motivation.
The yard was closed to all but essential personnel yesterday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)