by A.J. Yolofsky–The shooter is identified as 34 year old Aaron Alexis of Fort Worth, Texas. Alexis spent one enlistment in the US Navy Reserve as an aviation electrician’s mate. He achieved the rank of Petty Officer Third Class, which is a relatively junior rank. There is no information available that Alexis had any type of combat specialty training, such as a sniper, martial artist, or master-at-arms (Navy’s version of military police).
Neighbors and acquaintances have (of course) described Alexis as quiet and as someone who meditated on a regular basis. While this active shooter event seems similar to several others in recent history, the supposed secure nature of the Navy Yard distinguishes this situation.
Notably, news reports stated that the DC Police deployed their active shooter response team and had them at the Navy Yard within 7 minutes of the first reports of a shooting. While this response time may seem fast, the reality is that in an active shooter situation, snails move faster in a sea of molasses. More interesting is that a highly qualified reaction force was less than two minutes away from the Navy Yard.
The Marine Barracks at 8th & I Streets is but 200 yards from the Navy Yard’s gate. Due to incompatibility issues between the civilian guarded gate and the Marine Barracks, no call was placed to the Barracks’ guardhouse. The Barracks’ reaction force maintains complete readiness 24 hours per day. As a result of turning over base security to civilian contractors, the response time to the Alexis shooting spree was increased.
As of this writing, all of the identified victims were civilians, except for the police officers shot in the line of duty. The media also reports that both the military and civilian workers inside Sea Systems Command were told to “hunker down in place.” None were armed and all were only able to HOPE that Alexis did not turn his attention toward them. Once Alexis was through the door, he had unfettered access to all of his targets.
Alexis had a history of anger management issues and gun incidents. In 2004, he shot out the tires of another person’s car in a road rage incident, after which, he blacked out. More troubling is the “accidental” discharge of his rifle into his upstairs neighbor’s apartment in 2011. Alexis was not charged because the police that investigated determined that Alexis was cleaning his gun at the time it fired. Unfortunately, this explanation is full of unprocessed fertilizer.
No sane person cleans a loaded weapon. Also, almost no weapon fires unless a round is in the chamber, the safety is off, and the trigger is squeezed. Three intentional actions are necessary to discharge a weapon: load it; switch the safety off, and finally – squeeze the trigger. Considering Alexis’ reported history of anger management problems, the likelihood that this shooting was accidental are slim to none.
The most elusive issue seems to be the motive. Given Alexis’ mental history, just about anything could have set him off. The reports of his methodical assassination of the staff do not give any indication of why Alexis picked building 197. There is nothing to contradict the early assessment that Alexis picked a location where he could do the most damage.
This means he planned this attack with knowledge of how full the cafeteria would be at roughly 8am on a Monday. As more details are learned, particularly about Alexis’ background, the picture will likely become clearer that multiple signs existed that would have indicated Alexis was planning something big.
The security lessons learned so far from this incident are similar to those coming from other mass shooting incidents. First, the law enforcement response is just minutes away, but those are long minutes for those persons inside the kill zone. Law abiding citizens with concealed carry permits might offer some assistance to combat the shooter because law enforcement can only be in so many places at once.
Realistically, inside of a crime-ridden city like Washington, D.C., there was no guarantee that the active shooter response team could have responded to the Alexis shooting. Second, effective security begins in the immediate area with every person.
Things or people that seem out of place – are. That funny feeling we all get from time to time is a signal that something is wrong. Ultimately, all of us are responsible for our personal security. Third, cutting corners with security costs yields deadly results. Alexis came through the gate manned by civilians, not Marines.
In general, civilian contractors cost less than military personnel. Alexis used a common access card, which opened all doors. Also, there were no metal detectors or scanners at the entrances. Finally, no reaction force existed inside of the Navy Yard. Again, adding personnel costs more money.
Breaking: The defense security service re-cleared Alexis for his security clearance in July 2013. Who did those investigators (not) talk to? How the investigators missed the 2011 incident is inexcusable.
A. J. Yolofsky is an attorney, former USMC, and security consultant.