Alexis told police he believed people were following him and "sending vibrations into his body," according to a Newport police report.
He told police that he had twice moved hotels to avoid the noise he heard coming through the floor and the ceiling of his rooms, and that the people following him were using "some sort of microwave machine" to prevent him from sleeping.
"Based on the naval base implications and the claim that the involved subject, one (Aaron Alexis) was 'hearing voices,' I made contact with the on-duty Naval Station police," a Newport police officer wrote, adding that he faxed his report of the incident to Navy police.
The Newport police report said Navy police had promised to check if Alexis was in fact a naval base contractor.Maybe it's because the military-industrial-surveillance complex has nothing to do with keeping us safe, and everything to do with profits, control, and power for a group of doddering old fools with shiny medals for their chests and Star Trek captain chairs for their padded rumps. Maybe it's because the alleged shooter was not a Facebook fan, and didn't Tweet, or send emails to act as magnets for the NSA dragnet. He just didn't fit the mold of the mythical tribal militant internet chatterer or Occupy subversive anarchist.
He wasn't political enough for the spooks to notice. He didn't threaten the power structure. He wasn't a whistleblower. He didn't worship at a Mosque.
He was just sick. According to several published reports, he had sought help from the Veterans Administration. Whether he was rebuffed, or put on terminal hold, or just got lost in the shuffle like so many sufferers of mental illness remains to be seen.
When I read about Aaron Alexis, I was reminded of an incident in the 70s when I'd just started my first reporting job, and was assigned to the police beat.
Early each morning on my way to the newsroom, I'd stop in at the municipal cop shop in Newburgh, N.Y. to inspect the blotter for the previous night's arrests. One day as I was sitting in the lobby, scribbling my notes, a middle-aged man walked in and approached the desk sergeant.
"You gotta help me," he pleaded. "They're out to kill me."
After failing to elicit any cogent details from the complainant, the cop sent him on his way. As the man shambled out, the officer glanced in my direction, rolled his eyes and shook his head, muttering something about a full moon.
Fast forward a couple of days, and all hell had broken loose in police headquarters. There'd been a hostage situation overnight. A man had barricaded himself with his victims in an upstairs apartment. Shots were exchanged with police, and one hostage died of a bullet wound to the heart.*
Later that afternoon, as the suspect was led into court for arraignment, I recognized him as the same man who'd pleaded for help at the police station. And it turned out he'd also sought help in the local hospital emergency room, and from a Catholic church. He was rebuffed at those sanctuaries, too.
There are thousands of people with severe mental illness in this country, getting rebuffed, every single day. We rarely notice them until (and let me emphasize that this is the exception to the rule) they become violent.
Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist, appeared on the PBS News Hour last night to speculate on what could have been tormenting Alexis:
Somewhere, something went wrong with his brain in his 20s, and now you're looking at symptoms of the disease, one of which is acting out, in this case killing people. And in his mind, he was doing it based on delusions.
My guess is that he was terminated by the Navy, more or less, discharged on. He probably thinks the Navy were doing all of these things that he's experiencing in his mind, and he was going to get back at them. And so this episode makes no sense to us, but to him it made perfect sense.And, as to how he could have escaped notice both during the vetting process and on the job:
First of all, it's important to emphasize, Judy, that most people with schizophrenia don't become violent. It's only a small been who are not being treated who become violent. In terms of -- we put everything together now, and you say this guy was potentially dangerous. He had a brain disease. He had alcohol abuse. Apparently, he had episodes of violence.
Nobody had that information to put together, and so that -- also people with paranoid schizophrenia actually can look pretty good in an interview. And so it's difficult. This is a man who didn't know he was sick. He had what we call anosognosia, where he has no awareness of his illness. He would have been hard to treat.It's estimated that about half of all people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder are going untreated at any given time. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, that amounts to about 3.5 million people.
Since it appears that even the most innocuous gun control laws don't stand a chance in this country, maybe it's time for us to just concentrate on the humanitarian crisis of neglected mental illness.
After all, although the most vulnerable among us don't have a lobby, at least there is no NRA-like anti-mental health lobby skulking around Capitol Hill, threatening congress critters with primaries if they speak up for healthy minds.
Of course, I am being naïve.
* I tracked down a Google archive of my article. To read it, you have to use the "drag" technique.