Navy Yard alleged gunman purchased shotgun legally in Virginia

Kevin G. Hall

A day after a shooting rampage that left 13 dead in the nation’s capital, the FBI said Tuesday afternoon that alleged gunman Aaron Alexis was armed only with a shotgun purchased legally two days before in Virginia when he entered the Navy Yard’s Building 197 and began firing.

Addressing reporters, FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Valerie Parlave said law enforcement is now sure that Alexis acted alone and thinks he wasn’t as heavily armed as first thought.

“At this time, we believe that Aaron Alexis entered with a shotgun. We do not have any information at this time that he had an AR-15 in his possession,” said Parlave, also confirming that Alexis did get a handgun from a guard he had shot.

The FBI also offered new details of the movements of Alexis in his final days. He is believed to have arrived in the Washington area around Aug. 25, and stayed in area hotels. On Sept. 7, he began to stay at a Residence Inn not far from the site of the shooting in the southwestern portion of the District of Columbia.

In a statement from J. Michael Slocum, legal counsel for Sharpshooters in Lorton, Va., he reveals that Alexis purchased the gun on Sunday, along with two boxes of ammunition, which means he bought the gun two days before the shooting. Slocum's statement says:

Sharpshooters Small Arms Range was visited by Aaron Alexis on September 14, 2013. Mr. Alexis rented a rifle and purchased ammunition which he used at the practice range. He then purchased a Remington 870 shotgun and a small amount of ammunition (approximately 2 boxes -- 24 shells). In accordance with Federal law, Mr. Alexis' name and other applicable information, including his state of residency, was provided to the Federal NICS system and he was approved by that system. After the terrible and tragic events at the Navy Yard, the Sharpshooters was visited by federal law enforcement authorities, who reviewed the Range's records, including video and other materials. So far as is known Mr. Alexis visited the Range only once, and he has had no other contact with the Range, so far as is known.

“We continue to conduct interviews, exploit digital media … to piece together his recent movements and determine the motive behind his attack,” said Parlave, asking the public to share any and all information that’s known about Alexis. “No piece of information is too small.”

Hundreds of tips have already come in, and the investigation is spanning both coasts, with a look at the gunman’s checkered past in Seattle and in the New York area. Alexis is believed to have family in both areas. He also lived in Fort Worth.

The FBI refused comment on multiple media reports that Alexis, a naval reservist who left service in January 2011, had been on a path for a dishonorable discharge but left before that process played out. The agency also declined to comment on reports that Alexis had been receiving psychiatric help from VA hospitals.

“We continue to look into Mr. Alexis’s past, including his medical and criminal histories,” Parlave said, declining further comment.

Late Monday, law enforcement confirmed that Alexis entered the Navy Yard with a legitimate badge as a defense contractor and drove onto the base. That prompted the Navy to announce Tuesday that it was reviewing its programs granting security clearance.

A "senior Pentagon official" confirmed that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will order a review of physical security and access at all Department of Defense installations worldwide.

"The secretary is collecting input from senior leaders today to define the parameters of this review, which could be formally announced as soon as tomorrow."

District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier provided reporters a more detailed timeline of Monday’s fast-moving events. The first calls came into police about a gunman around 8:15 a.m., and officers were on the scene in two minutes. The first shoot team arrived in seven minutes and officers were immediately in the building scoping out the gunman’s location for incoming personnel.

The entire gun battle lasted more than half an hour, but less than an hour, Lanier said.

“I can tell you there was multiple engagements with the suspect from multiple agencies … before the final shots were fired,” Lanier said.

Correction: Aaron Alexis purchased the shotgun used in the shooting on Saturday, Sept. 14, not on Sunday, Sept. 15, as Sharpshooters lawyer's statement originally said. This story also originally described the Remington 870 as a rifle; it is a shotgun.

By Kevin G. Hall
McClatchy Washington Bureau