Skip to main content

Navy Yard shooting: Up to speed in 3 minutes

By the CNN Staff
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Fri September 20, 2013

Washington (CNN) -- Red flags, unexplained etchings on a shotgun, claims of poor police response. It's been three days since Aaron Alexis went on a shooting rampage at the Navy Yard in Washington. And each new day since has brought new revelations about his past, the attack and the subsequent inquiry.

Talk centered this week on how Alexis could maintain his security clearance and access to military contracting jobs despite a checkered history in the Navy and with civilian police.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday that the Defense Department would stage a comprehensive review of security practices at military bases worldwide. And late Wednesday night, the Navy secretary said he had ordered three reviews of security clearances, including one into the granting of Alexis' clearance.

A woman who said she works at the Washington Navy Yard looks at a memorial to the shooting victims on Wednesday, September 18. Authorities said 12 people -- plus the gunman -- were killed in the shooting on Monday, September 16. View photos from the scene of the rampage. A woman who said she works at the Washington Navy Yard looks at a memorial to the shooting victims on Wednesday, September 18. Authorities said 12 people -- plus the gunman -- were killed in the shooting on Monday, September 16. View photos from the scene of the rampage.
Nation mourns Navy Yard shooting victims
Photos: Nation mourns Navy Yard victims Photos: Nation mourns Navy Yard victims
The Navy Yard shooting and mental health
Navy Yard shooter's 'red flags'
Family's scary encounter with shooter

Here's a recap of the latest developments, meant to bring you up to speed quickly.


Valid identification: Alexis had just started a contracting job on the base, so he was able to gain access to Building 197 like any other worker. He walked in, a law enforcement source said, with a bag slung in over his shoulder, passing through security with other employees arriving for work. While red flags come to light after the shooting, Navy officials say none of the details would have been enough to deny him clearance.

Background check: Government contractor USIS said Thursday that it performed Alexis' 2007 background check for the Office of Personnel Management. USIS is the same firm that performed former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's background check for OPM that granted him a security clearance. The firm is under investigation.

Disassembled shotgun: The bag Alexis was carrying apparently contained a disassembled Remington 870 shotgun, a law enforcement official said. Alexis is seen on surveillance video ducking into a bathroom and leaving with the shotgun.


30 minutes: Authorities believe Alexis came out of the bathroom and immediately began shooting at random, FBI Director James Comey said Thursday. Investigators believe he then went floor to floor shooting at workers, Comey said. Authorities and witnesses had previously said it appeared Alexis shot mostly from the building's atrium. According to law enforcement officials, he shot a guard on the first floor and took his handgun. It took more than 30 minutes for police to hunt down and kill Alexis, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier said.

Unexplained etchings: Alexis etched phrases into the shotgun, a source said. But investigators don't know what to make of it. They read: "Better off this way" and "My elf weapon."


Stand down: A government official told CNN that when the first radio call came in about a shooting at the Navy Yard, highly trained tactical U.S. Capitol Police officers headed to the base but were told by a watch commander to stand down. The chief has now ordered an "independent fact review." D.C. Police Chief Lanier told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday that she was not aware of anyone being turned away. "I don't think you could have had a faster response," she said.

Undermanned: The Navy Yard also has its own police force. But there were only seven officers working Monday, a police officer and a union official said.


Survivor: He's slaughtering with shotgun
Odd markings on Navy Yard shooter's gun
Witness: Shooter looked at her and 'boom'

Blood everywhere: Navy officials say damage inside Building 197 is so extensive, it may take weeks to repair and reopen it. "There is blood everywhere," one official said. "There is damage everywhere."


Steady recovery: One of the three hospitalized shooting victims has been released. The woman was struck behind the ear. Two others -- a civilian and a police officer -- remain in fair condition. The officer, Scott Williams, is in "great spirits," said Chief Lanier. "I do think he's going to be OK, and recover fully, but he's still having some pretty serious complications," she said.


Still a mystery: Investigators have talked to Alexis' friends and family. They've pored over his computers and other possessions. But, say law enforcement sources, nothing points to a specific motive for the rampage. "I'll reserve judgment on that until all of the work of the FBI is done," Lanier told CNN's Blitzer. "There's still a lot more to do."


Hearing voices: In August, Alexis told police in Newport, Rhode Island, that he was hearing voices and was convinced that someone was using a "microwave machine" to send vibrations into his body to keep him awake. Police notified the Navy. The Navy isn't commenting.

Strange behavior: Also in August, Alexis apparently had an altercation with a family at an airport in Virginia. He thought a woman was laughing at him and became angry. "He started getting a little belligerent, and started using profanity, and going off," said Glynda Boyd. Her brother approached someone to call security, which calmed him down. But Alexis left an unsettling impression. "It was weird. That never happened to us before like that. We had just come off a great vacation," said Michael Boyd.

Trouble sleeping: That month, the VA Medical Center in Providence gave him medicine to help him sleep. A few days later, he went to a VA medical center in Washington to request a refill. Both times, he was asked if he was depressed or had suicidal or homicidal thoughts. He said he didn't. Also in August, CNN has learned Alexis traveled to a Buddhist temple in Massachusetts and asked the monks if he could spend the night. They suggested a hotel, according to temple spokesman Eang Tan, but Alexis reportedly said he didn't like to stay at hotels because there were noises there that bothered him.

Disregarded warning: A senior Navy officer told CNN that Navy officials knew about Alexis' 2004 arrest for shooting out the tires of a car, but they decided to grant him security clearance anyway in 2007.


"So very sorry": Alexis' mother apologized Wednesday to the families of the victims, saying she didn't know "why he did what he did, and I'll never be able to ask him why." "Aaron is now in a place where he can no longer do harm to anyone, and for that I am glad," she said. "To the families of the victims, I am so, so very sorry that this has happened. My heart is broken."


Thorough review: On Wednesday night, the Navy secretary ordered three reviews:

1) To see if Alexis' behavior on and off duty made him fit for duty or to hold security clearance.

2) To see if a contractor is required to inform the Navy if it reviews an employee's clearance.

3) A thorough look at how security clearances are granted and renewed in the Navy.

"Where there are gaps, we will close them. Where there are inadequacies, we will address them. And where there are failures, we will correct them," said Defense Secretary Hagel.

CNN's Pamela Brown, Chris Lawrence, Barbara Starr, Chris Cuomo, John King, Deborah Feyerick, Evan Perez, Tom Cohen, Dan Merica, Larry Shaughnessy, Brian Todd, Alan Silverleib, Susan Candiotti, Joe Johns, Ed Lavandera, Kevin Liptak and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
D.C. Navy Yard shooting
updated 2:06 PM EDT, Wed September 25, 2013
Surveillance video shows the Navy Yard shooter arrive and begin his deadly rampage.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu September 26, 2013
According to the FBI, Aaron Alexis was under "the delusional belief that he was being controlled or influenced by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves."
Get to know the victims of the Navy Yard shooting through our interactive.
updated 6:37 AM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis left a trail of so-called red flags that, in hindsight, seem quite glaring, even if the impetus for this week's deadly rampage remains murky.
updated 4:42 PM EDT, Sun September 22, 2013
They were civilians and contractors, just starting their day at a massive military compound that's normally a bastion of safety.
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Tue September 17, 2013
The picture emerging of the dead gunman is a study in contrasts, one of a man who practiced languages and meditated, and another of a cold-blooded killer.
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Mon September 23, 2013
President Barack Obama said Sunday that the United States "can't accept" last week's killing of 12 people at Washington's Navy Yard as "inevitable."
updated 6:38 AM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
For scientist Benita Bell, memories of an encounter with a stranger last week took on a different light after the shooting.
updated 6:20 AM EDT, Wed September 18, 2013
The shooter had a "pattern of misconduct" as a Navy reservist, had sporadic run-ins with the law, and had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals for apparent psychological issues.
updated 7:32 AM EDT, Tue September 17, 2013
The Washington Navy Yard is the home to high-level naval personnel and is the workplace for many junior service members and civilian employees.
updated 12:47 PM EDT, Fri September 20, 2013
When Washington's police chief visited wounded officer Scott Williams after the Navy Yard shooting it wasn't a chief visiting a subordinate. It was one cop visiting another cop.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Tue September 17, 2013
Months after apologizing for overeager users fingering innocent people as potential suspects in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Reddit shut down a section devoted to chasing down the Washington Navy Yard shooter.
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Tue September 17, 2013
About 3,000 people work at the Navy Yard, including junior service members and civilian employees. It's supposed to be a secure facility. So what went wrong?
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Aurora. Sandy Hook. Boston. And now the nation's capital. Another mass tragedy filled with incomprehensible loss, nonstop news coverage and a major question for parents: What do we tell our kids?
updated 7:38 AM EDT, Wed September 18, 2013
The White House defended President Barack Obama from criticism he was tone deaf in his reaction to the shootings at Washington Navy Yard.
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Wed September 18, 2013
The national trauma inflicted by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School prompted an emotional and fierce debate on gun control, but the drive for stricter limits fell short in Washington.
updated 3:23 PM EDT, Mon September 16, 2013
A Navy commander describes witnessing a man get shot during the Navy Yard shooting. CNN's Rene Marsh has more.
updated 8:03 PM EDT, Mon September 16, 2013
A chronicle of the events in the D.C. Navy Yard shooting.
updated 6:32 PM EDT, Mon September 16, 2013
A fire alarm went off, as has happened before at the Washington Navy Yard. Terrie Durham wasn't sure if it was anything serious, or a drill.
updated 3:36 PM EDT, Wed September 18, 2013
Go inside the story with photos from the scene.