Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old information technology employee with a defense contractor, used a valid pass to get into the highly secured installation Monday morning and started firing inside a building, the FBI said. He was killed in a gun battle with police.
The motive for the mass shooting — the deadliest on a military installation in the U.S. since the attack at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 — was a mystery, investigators said.
U.S. law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that there was no known connection to terrorism and that investigators have found no manifesto or other writings suggesting a political or religious motive.
Alexis had been suffering a host of serious mental problems, including paranoia and a sleep disorder, and had been hearing voices in his head, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the criminal investigation was still going on.
He had been treated since August by Veterans Affairs, the officials said.
The Navy had not declared him mentally unfit, which would have rescinded a security clearance Alexis had from his earlier time in the Navy Reserves.
The assault is likely to raise more questions about the adequacy of the background checks done on contract employees and others who are issued security clearances — an issue that came up most recently with National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, an IT employee with a government contractor.
In the hours after the Navy Yard attack, a profile of Alexis began coming into focus.
A Buddhist convert who had also had flare-ups of rage, Alexis, a black man who grew up in New York City and whose last known address was in Fort Worth, Texas, complained about the Navy and being a victim of discrimination. He also had run-ins with the law over shootings in 2004 and 2010 in Texas and Seattle, and was ticketed for disorderly conduct after being thrown out of a metro Atlanta nightclub in 2008.
Alexis' bouts of insubordination, disorderly conduct and being absent from work without authorization prompted the Navy to grant him an early — but honorable — discharge in 2011 after nearly four years as a full-time reservist, authorities said. During his service, he repaired aircraft electrical systems at Fort Worth.
In addition to those killed at the Navy Yard attack, eight people were hurt, including three who were shot and wounded, authorities. Those three were a police officer and two female civilians, authorities said. They were all expected to survive.
The dead ranged in age from 46 to 73, officials said. A number of the victims were civilian employees and contractors, rather than active-duty military personnel.
Those killed included: Michael Arnold, 59, a Navy veteran and avid pilot who was building a light airplane at his home; Sylvia Frasier, 53, who worked in computer security; Kathleen Gaarde, 63, a financial analyst; and Frank Kohler, 50, a former president of the Rotary Club in Lexington Park, Md., who proudly reigned as "King Oyster" at the region's annual seafood festival.
Monday's onslaught at a single building at the Navy Yard unfolded about 8:20 a.m. in the heart of the nation's capital, less than four miles from the White House and two miles from the Capitol. It put all of Washington on edge.
"This is a horrific tragedy," Mayor Vincent Gray said.
Alexis carried three weapons: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun that he took from a police officer at the scene, according to two federal law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
The AR-15 is the same type of rifle used in last year's shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults. The weapon was also used in the shooting at a Colorado movie theater that killed 12 and wounded 70.
For much of the day Monday, authorities said they were looking for a possible second attacker who may have been disguised in an olive-drab military-style uniform. But by late Monday night, they said they were convinced the shooting was the work of a lone gunman, and the lockdown around the area was eased.
"We do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside the base today," Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
President Barack Obama lamented yet another mass shooting in the U.S. that he said took the lives of American "patriots." He promised to make sure "whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible."
The FBI took charge of the investigation.
The attack came four years after Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood in what he said was an effort to save the lives of Muslims overseas. He was convicted last month and sentenced to death.
At the time of the rampage, Alexis was an employee with The Experts, a company that was a Defense Department subcontractor on a Navy-Marine Corps computer project, authorities said.
Valerie Parlave, head of the FBI's field office in Washington, said Alexis had access to the Navy Yard as a defense contractor and used a valid pass.
The Washington Navy Yard is a sprawling, 41-acre labyrinth of buildings and streets protected by armed guards and metal detectors, and employees have to produce their IDs at doors and gates. More than 18,000 people work there.
The rampage took place at Building 197, the headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command, which buys, builds and maintains ships and submarines. About 3,000 people work at headquarters, many of them civilians.
Witnesses on Monday described a gunman opening fire from a fourth-floor overlook, aiming down on people on the main floor, which includes a glass-walled cafeteria. Others said a gunman fired at them in a third-floor hallway.
Patricia Ward, a logistics-management specialist, said she was in the cafeteria getting breakfast.
"It was three gunshots straight in a row — pop, pop, pop. Three seconds later, it was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, so it was like about a total of seven gunshots, and we just started running," Ward said.
__ Associated Press writers Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Jesse Holland, Stacy A. Anderson, Brian Witte and Ben Nuckols in Washington contributed to this report.
As French President Francois Hollande keeps up the threat of military strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, he isn't just acting as President Barack Obama's poodle, as some critics maintain. France, Syria's onetime colonial ruler and a country eager to maintain its place as a military and diplomatic power, has plenty of reasons to be out front on Syria.
The Middle Eastern country took its current shape as a French mandate after being chiseled out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, as did neighboring Lebanon, and French is spoken by many in both countries. France has particularly close ties to Lebanon and wants to prevent it from being sucked further into Syria's chaos.
The ties to the region also make Syria a particularly attractive place for homegrown French extremists. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said this month that about 110 citizens or residents of France have joined up with jihadist fighters in Syria — about half the total number from European Union countries. French authorities fear they will return home to carry out terrorism.
Also, fear of chemical weapons runs deep in France, which is why France has hardened its line since the Aug. 21 attack in which the U.S. and some allies believe Assad's regime used sarin gas against Syrian citizens. Many French people have ancestors who faced mustard gas in World War I, as chemical weapons scarred public consciousness for the first time.
INDEPENDENCE AND INTELLIGENCE
Dating back to the presidency of Gen. Charles de Gaulle in the midst of the Cold War, France has long sought to show it makes military decisions independently. A nuclear power, it has also built up one of the world's more robust intelligence machines, in part to show that it doesn't just rely on the United States for information.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian tried to drive home that point to a small group of journalists invited to the headquarters of DRM, France's military intelligence agency, in Creil north of Paris, and taken inside the high-security computer nerve center where images are beamed down from France's Helios and Pleaides satellites. The message was aimed mostly at domestic audiences, who are disillusioned with Hollande and wary of an intervention in Syria.
Screens bore labels of Damascus, the Syrian capital; a nuclear facility at Bushehr, Iran; and Gao, Mali — in the vast desert zone that was controlled by al-Qaida-linked Islamic radicals until French troops ousted them this year.
The images from Damascus appeared to date from late August, and military officers in the image-monitoring center quietly acknowledged that tracking movements of chemical weapons in Syria was difficult by satellite. The DRM also collects intelligence from human sources and through electronic monitoring.
A high-ranking officer with the 13th RDP special forces regiment explained how French troops parachuted secretly into Mali — not showering for days beforehand because dogs can smell soap. Another showed a fake cinder block with a camera inside that could be planted near the suspected hideout of enemy fighters. A bogus stone made of plastic resin about the size of a volleyball hid a GPS beacon inside, to help with targeting. Defense Ministry escorts said the officers' names could not be used for security reasons.
THE MALI MODEL OF MILITARY MUSCLE
France's intervention in Mali has emboldened the government on other overseas operations. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb was largely ousted from northern Mali. Only seven French soldiers died in the months-long intervention, while French officials say hundreds of militants were killed. The operation paved the way for elections generally seen as legitimate.
The Mali intervention offered France "an assertion of French military capabilities outside of an operation dominated by the U.S.," said Marc Pierini, a Frenchman who served 35 years as a European Union diplomat, including four years as its ambassador to Syria at the start of Assad's tenure.
SOLE STRENGTH IN EUROPE?
After Britain's parliament blocked any potential British military participation in a Syria strike earlier this month, France stood alone as the European country most willing to wield the military threat alongside the United States against Assad's regime.
From a military standpoint, "none of the other European countries are needed," Pierini said. "The only European country that has Tomahawks is the U.K. — it's paralyzed politically — so the next best thing is the French Scalp," an airplane-fired cruise missile.
Former Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said France also wants to give more teeth to the EU.
"The other Europeans are not in the mindset of 'Europe power,' but one of 'Big Switzerland' — that's to say an isolationist, pacifist evolution," and want to avoid "all foreign dramas and intervene as little as possible," he said in a phone interview.
Not so France.
WANTING TO BE HEARD
A permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, France is often seen as a fading, if not already faded, power. Hollande wants to counter that, and is using France's vast diplomatic network to do so.
It's also propelled by a French Revolution-era belief in universal values of human rights, which has played a role in French military interventions from Bosnia to Afghanistan. An exception was Iraq a decade ago, when then-President Jacques Chirac opposed the U.S.-led operation in Iraq, saying it wasn't justified.
"C'est la France, Monsieur!" said Pierini, referring to France's impulse to intervene. "It's in part the issue of principle."
Added Vedrine, the former foreign minister: "The question is not, 'Do we side up with the United States?' It is, 'Can we let this massacre happen without reacting?'"
Investigators believe Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist, was the lone gunman in the shooting spree at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. earlier today in which 12 people were killed before the suspect was killed in a firefight with police, and authorities have lifted a shelter in place for the remaining residents in the area.
The 12 deceased shooting victims range in age from 46 to 73 years old, Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said at an evening news conference. Officials are still notifying the families of about half of the 12 people who were killed, he said.
"We have no evidence that any active military are amongst the victims," Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
Police identified the seven victims whose families had been notified as: Michael Arnold, 59; Sylvia Fraiser, 53; Kathy Gaarde, 62; John Roger Johnson, 73; Frank Kohler, 50; Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46; and Vishnu Pandit, 61.
The death of Alexis, 34, of Fort Worth, Texas, brought the toll of the carnage at the Navy Sea Systems Command headquarters to 13. The shooter's identity was confirmed based on a partial finger print analysis, authorities said.
The suspect had a security clearance that allowed him onto the Navy Yard as part of his civilian subcontracting work, officials said.
Alexis and members of the subcontracting team, according to law enforcement sources, were staying at a Residence Inn about a mile from the Navy Yard. The suspect's car was found on the Washington Navy Yard, law enforcement sources said.
A senior law enforcement official said he used his security clearance to get on campus and it appeared he did not force his way onto the property. Officials were in the process of getting a search warrant to search the vehicle, which was described as a rental car.
Authorities had earlier said they were searching for a possible second suspect, but officials said at the evening news conference said the search for a black suspect in olive-drab uniform age 40 to 50 has been exhausted.
Earlier Monday, Lanier praised the works by police officers who responded to the incident.
"I think the actions by the police officers, without question, helped to reduce the number of lives lost," she said.
Lanier said police and the suspect exchanged gunfire "multiple times" before he was shot and killed in a final gun battle.
Valerie Parlave, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington D.C. field office, said investigators were trying to learn everything they can about Alexis.
"No piece of information is too small," Parlave said.
She asked anyone with information about his recent movements, contacts and associates to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
Another man who was sought for a possible connection to the shooting was located this afternoon and was no longer a "suspect or person of interest," according to a tweet from the Metropolitan Police Department.
Lanier declined to discuss what evidence led police to believe the massacre could have potentially been carried out by more than one person.
"We have reason to believe these people may be involved and we want to talk to them," Lanier said at an afternoon news conference. She said there was "no known motive" for the massacre.
Among the wounded was a law enforcement officer who was shot in an exchange with the gunman.
The shooting brought parts of Washington D.C. to a standstill.
The Washington Nationals, whose stadium is a couple blocks away from the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, said the team's game tonight against the Atlanta Braves was postponed until Tuesday.
The Senate complex was placed under a temporary lockdown this afternoon "in light of the uncertainty surrounding the shooting" and the possibility that a second shooter might have been at large, Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance W. Gainer wrote in a note to the Senate community.
At nearby Reagan National Airport this morning, a ground stop was imposed by the FAA. All planes have since resumed flying out of the airport, a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokeswoman told ABC News.
Nine D.C. public schools were placed on lock downs this morning, according to the District of Columbia Public Schools' Twitter account, but all schools were dismissed as scheduled this afternoon.
Washington D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton told reporters the district has not "had a day like this since 9/11."
President Obama ordered the flags at all federal and military installations to be flown at half-staff through Friday in honor of the victims.
At the beginning of a news conference today, Obama said he was briefed on the shooting.
"We are confronting yet another mass shooting, and today it happened on a military installation in our nation's capital," he said.
Obama said he wanted a "seamless" investigation into the shooting and was standing with the victims and their families affected by what he called a "cowardly act."
"It targeted our military and civilian personnel, men and women who were going to work, doing their job protecting all of us. They are patriots and they know the dangers of serving abroad," Obama said. "But today they faced the unimaginable violence that they won't have expected here at home."
Two Officers Among the Injured
Two law enforcement officers were among the injured when the suspect fired shots inside the 3,000-person building at 8:20 a.m. Law enforcement officials initially told personnel to evacuate the building but they were later told to shelter in place.
A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent a team of special agents to help secure the scene. This is the same team that helped apprehend Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, according to the spokesman.
Three gunshot victims were taken to Washington Medical Center with "severe injuries," according to Janis Orlowski, chief medical officer at the hospital.
The victims were described as a male Metropolitan police officer who had "multiple gunshot wounds to his legs," a woman who was shot in the head and the hand and another woman who was shot in the shoulder.
Orlowski said all three were in critical condition, however they were conscious and were expected to survive.
Navy Yard Witnesses Heard Series of Loud Pops
Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist at the Navy Yard, said she heard a series of shots, at least seven, in rapid succession.
"A few of us just ran outside the side exit," Ward said.
Outside the building she saw a security guard with her gun drawn who told them to run and shelter.
Ward said the building has security.
"You need a card to enter the building. It's very hard to get in without a card," she said.
"Being with the incident that happened today, not secure enough for me," Ward said.
Frank Putzo, an attorney at the Navy Yard, told ABC News affiliate WJLA-TV he was on the fourth floor of the building when the shooting began.
"We heard three sounds, it sounded like a table collapsing on the ground," he said.
He said he came out of his office and heard a "very loud pop" about a minute later that he estimated was about 100 feet away.
"When that happened everyone said, 'This is no drill, go, go, go,'" he said. "And a whole bunch of us were able to make it to the emergency exits. And we heard several more shots."
The Naval Sea Systems Command, the largest of the Navy's five commands, is responsible for engineering, building, buying and maintaining ships, submarines and combat systems in the Navy's fleet.