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Navy: Shooter wasn't found 'a physical threat'

Wednesday - 9/18/2013, 12:52pm  ET

aaronalexis_ap.jpg
Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, told the Newport, R.I., police last month that he was hearing voices. The police contacted the Navy, who did not find him a physical threat, the Navy's chief of information said Wednesday. (AP Photo)
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Newport, R.I., Police Lt. William Fitzgerald

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Rear Adm. John Kirby, U.S. Navy chief of information

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Rick Massimo, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The Navy was informed last month of an incident in which the man who shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday complained that he was hearing voices through his hotel room walls, but found nothing that would indicate that he was a "physical threat" to himself or others.

Navy contractor Aaron Alexis called the Newport, R.I., police Aug. 7 to his Newport hotel room and reported that he was being harrassed. After interviewing him, the police then reported the incident to security at the Navy base there, five weeks before the shooting, Newport Police Lt. William Fitzgerald told WTOP in an interview Wednesday.

Later Wednesday, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy's chief of information, told WTOP that security officers at the base "looked at this hard with the Newport police and determined that he wasn't a physical threat at the time, and that's where they left it at that point."

Kirby said that Alexis' service record shows "some performance and conduct issues of a minor nature," including lateness, insubordination and disorderly conduct. "But ... we've seen nothing so far that would indicate that this man was capable of the kind of violence that he committed earlier this week at the Navy Yard."

Fitzgerald said that Alexis called Newport police about 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 7 from his room at the Newport Marriott, claiming he was being harassed.

Alexis said that he had gotten into a verbal altercation at some point in the process surrounding his flight from Virginia to Rhode Island, and that he believed that person "had sent three people to follow him and to keep him awake by talking to him and sending vibrations into his body."

Alexis was already on his third hotel room in Rhode Island, according to Fitzgerald. At his first stop, a Residence Inn in Middletown, he heard the voices coming through a wall. He left for a hotel on the naval base, Fitzgerald said, but "continued to hear the same voices talking to him through the walls, floor and ceiling."

At the Marriott, Fitzgerald said, Alexis complained of hearing voices through the floor.

"He also said that they were using some sort of microwave machine to send vibrations through the ceiling," Fitzgerald said, "penetrating his body so he could not fall asleep."

All three hotels are roughly two miles apart.

Alexis said that he hadn't seen the three people, according to Fitzgerald, but claimed they were two black males and a black female.

Alexis told police he was a naval contractor, that he had never had a mental episode and that he had no family history of mental illness. Police, according to Fitzgerald, told Alexis that if he did see the people who he said were harassing him, he should call back and officers would confront them.

Fitzgerald said that once the report was filed and reviewed, police contacted the Navy base in Newport "due to the Navy base implications and claims that Mr. Alexis was hearing voices." They called base police about the incident and faxed the report over.

"They did say they would follow up on the matter," Fitzgerald said.

Contacting the Navy is a routine procedure under such circumstances, Fitzgerald said, given Newport's status as an international destination and the proximity to the base.

Even though Alexis said he had no mental problems, wasn't being charged with anything and was claiming to be a victim, "we thought it would be pretty prudent to just advise the Navy base about this," Fitzgerald said.

When Alexis was identified as the shooter at the Navy Yard on Monday, Fitzgerald said Newport police did a records search for his name as a matter of course, "because a lot of people do come to Newport from all over the place."

When they found out that Alexis had contacted them, Fitzgerald said police notified the FBI "immediately."

"We always second-guess ourselves," Fitzgerald said, adding that "our hearts and prayers are with the families in this tragedy in Washington."

Kirby was asked about whether Alexis' security clearance should have been revoked after the shooter's August call to police. Kirby called it "a hypothetical question" and said authorities' focus in August had been on whether Alexis was a physical threat to anyone.

"It was determined at a local level, at a very low level with the security office there, that he wasn't."

WTOP's Mike Moss asked Kirby, "I understand that if you commit adultery, you can lose your security clearance. So what happens if you lose your mind?"

"These are great questions, guys," Kirby replied, "and we're asking ourselves the very same ones."

"If we find that we missed flags, if we missed opportunities here to make a different decision about his security clearance, we'll certainly own up to that," he added.

Kirby also mentioned emergency assistance programs offering counseling to Navy Yard workers and their families - "anyone who needs help" - at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and at the Navy Yard, the latter of which opened Wednesday. He also announced that a hotline had been established for anyone who needs help.

The number is 855-677-1755.

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