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'A lot of red flags' in background of Navy Yard shooter, Hagel says

WASHINGTON — The man who gunned down 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday visited two hospitals in the weeks before the rampage but denied that he was depressed or having thoughts of harming himself or others, the Department of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday.

Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist who died in a police shootout after the rampage, complained of insomnia during an Aug. 23 emergency room visit to the VA Medical Center in Providence, R.I. He was given sleep medication and advised to follow up with a doctor. He made a similar visit five days later to the VA hospital in Washington, when he again complained of not being able to sleep because of his work schedule. His medication was refilled.

Alexis appeared "alert and oriented" during the visits and denied feeling depressed or anxious or wanting to do harm, the VA said.

The VA's statement, presented to lawmakers Wednesday, comes as investigators continue focusing on the erratic behavior of a 34-year-old man who law enforcement officials say was grappling with paranoia and reported hearing voices and being followed.

Alexis had been a full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to early 2011, and a Navy spokesman said his security clearance, at the "secret level," was good for 10 years from when he got it.

On the morning of the shooting, he used a valid badge to gain access to the sprawling Navy Yard and Building 197, bringing with him a sawed-off shotgun on which the cryptic messages of "better off this way" and "my ELF weapon" were scrawled, according to a law enforcement document reviewed by the Associated Press. The meaning of those words wasn't immediately clear.

The motive of the shooting also remains unclear, though investigators have focused on Alexis's mental health and alarming behavior displayed in the weeks before the massacre.

Meanwhile, Alexis's mother said Wednesday she does not know why her son opened fire on office workers and police. Cathleen Alexis read a brief statement inside her New York home, her voice shaking. She did not take questions from a reporter.

"Aaron is now in a place where he can no longer do harm to anyone, and for that I am glad," Cathleen Alexis said. "To the families of the victims, I am so so very sorry that this has happened. My heart is broken."

The shooting raised questions about the adequacy of background checks for government contractors who have access to sensitive information. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has also ordered two sweeping reviews of military security and employee screening programs, acknowledging Wednesday that "a lot of red flags" may have been missed in the background of the Washington Navy Yard shooter.

'A lot of red flags' in background of Navy Yard shooter, Hagel says 09/18/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 12:08am]
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