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What We Know About the Navy Yard Shooter

On Monday, Aaron Alexis entered the Navy Yard facility in Washington, D.C. and went on a shooting spree, killing 12 and wounding several others.

But who exactly was Alexis, and what drove him to commit such a horrendous act? Reports on Alexis's past have been filtering out over the past 24 hours, and they paint a picture of an unstable man with a history of mental illness and trouble with the law. Here are four key elements of his biography that provide some clues as to why he would carry out the worst attack on an American military base since the 2009 shooting at Ft. Hood, Texas.

A history of arrests: Prior to Monday's rampage, Alexis had been arrested three times on a range of charges, including gun crimes. Alexis's first run-in with police occurred on the morning of May 6, 2004, when he walked out of his home and fired two bullets into the rear wheels of a car belonging to a construction worker who Alexis claimed had disrespected him, firing a third round into the air. Alexis admitted to discharging the weapon, but told police he had acted while in an anger-induced "blackout." He was arrested, but ultimately did not face charges. Then, during the early-morning hours of Aug. 10, 2008, Alexis once more found himself on the wrong side of the law when he was thrown out of a club for damaging the furnishings. Once outside, he proceeded to cuss up a storm and refused to stop. "Fuck y'all, this is bullshit," he said, according to the police report from the incident. Police held him in jail for two nights. By 2010, Alexis was living in a gated apartment complex in Fort Worth, Texas, where he managed to put a bullet through his roof and his upstairs neighbor's apartment. Alexis claimed that it was an accident and that his greasy hands had slipped while he was cleaning his pistol. His neighbor refused to believe that explanation and maintained that Alexis had intentionally retaliated against her after lodging several complaints about her making too much noise. Police once more arrested Alexis for discharging a firearm, but the district attorney declined to press charges. Despite these arrests, Alexis passed a background check commissioned by his employer, The Experts, three months ago. That check revealed only a traffic violation and turned up no evidence that he had twice been arrested on weapons charges.

A history of mental illness: While Alexis served as a reservist in the Navy from 2007 to 2011 and never saw combat, he may nonetheless have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the condition that has afflicted thousands of American veterans. Following his 2004 arrest in Seattle, Alexis told police that he had been in New York City for the 9/11 attacks and, according to the police report, described "how those events had disturbed him." Alexis's father further told police that his son had assisted in rescue efforts and "had experienced anger management problems that the family believed was associated with PTSD." While living in Fort Worth, acquaintances say, Alexis drank heavily. "He can start drinking at 9:30 in the morning. He drinks often and for fun, but it was never a problem," Oui Suthamtewakul, who spent most of the past three years living with Alexis, told the Washington Post. More recently, Alexis's mental health problems appeared to have worsened. As of August, he was receiving treatment at a Veterans Administration hospital for a slew of issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder. Law enforcement officials also told the Associated Press that Alexis had been hearing voices in his head. A month ago, he experienced such severe hallucinations that he called the Newport, Rhode Island police department. Alexis told police that a person he had gotten into an argument with "had sent three people to follow him and to keep him awake by talking to him and sending vibrations to his body."

A checkered Navy career: Over the course of his four-year career in the Navy, Alexis was cited at least eight times for misconduct. Those citations stemmed from a combination of infractions, including his repeated arrests and allegations of insubordination against his superior officers. Alexis was never court marshaled for his behavior but did receive administrative punishments on three occasions. According to a Navy official who spoke with the Post, Alexis was cited for disorderly conduct, insubordination, and unexplained absences from work. In response to his pattern of behavior, the Navy had tried to kick him out of the force on a general discharge, which would have been a blotch on his record and a red flag to future employers. But while those proceedings were moving forward slowly, Alexis informed the Navy that he wished to leave. Seeing an opportunity to get rid of a troubled recruit, the Navy shunted him out the door with an honorable discharge in 2011. According to Thomas Hoshko, the CEO of The Experts, the IT firm that had employed Alexis as part of its sub-contract to carry out IT work for the Navy, Alexis had held a secret security clearance since 2007 -- one that was recently reviewed and reapproved. Hoshko told the Post that he would not have hired Alexis had he known about his troubled background.

A legally purchased firearm: Despite Alexis's history of mental health issues, he appears to have legally obtained at least one of the weapons used in Monday's massacre. Though it was initially reported that Alexis used an AR-15 -- the same type of rifle used in the December shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school -- police now say he used a shotgun and two pistols in his attack on the Navy Yard. Law enforcement officials say that Alexis brought the shotgun with him and picked the two handguns off of his victims. According to a Lorton, Virginia gun-dealer, Alexis purchased the shotgun, a Remington 870, on Sunday, and store employees entered his name into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, receiving approval for the sale.

FBI via Getty Images

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What Medals Did the Navy Yard Shooter Receive, Exactly?

Aaron Alexis, the Navy veteran and IT contractor who died after killing 12 people and wounding three others in a shooting rampage on Monday at Washington's Navy Yard facility, has been described by some media outlets as a decorated sailor. And that's technically accurate: During his service in the Navy, from 2008 until 2011, Alexis received two medals, which have been cited widely in news reports -- the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. These "decorations [are] said to be given for relatively minor distinctions," an MSNBC report states.

So what exactly are those distinctions? Here's a quick breakdown:

National Defense Service Medal: The medal is given to all active-duty soldiers and sailors, including members of the Coast Guard, who have served since Sept. 11, 2001. It was established in 1953 by President Dwight Eisenhower to indicate "military service during a time of war or conflict regardless of the service member's station of duty." It was previously given to all active-duty troops serving at any point between 1950 and 1954 (for the Korean War), 1961 and 1974 (for the Vietnam War), and 1990 to 1995 (for the first Gulf War). In May 2002 the Pentagon began awarding the medal to all servicemembers for an open-ended term.

Global War on Terrorism Service Medal: The medal was established in 2003 to recognize "individuals who either directly or indirectly" supported operations relating to the war on terror for at least 60 days at any point in their service, starting on Sept. 11, 2001, and extending indefinitely. A military factsheet about the medal notes that non-deployed troops are eligible for the decorations for actions including "maintaining/loading weapons systems for combat missions, securing installations against terrorism, augmenting command posts or crisis action teams and processing personnel for deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism."

The medals, in other words, are decorations -- but they're not the military's most prestigious distinctions. Hence why the New York Times carefully described the medals as "two standard military honors" -- and the BBC opted for "routine."

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