WASHINGTON - The man police suspect of a mass shooting Monday at the Washington Navy Yard was employed by an IT subcontractor working on a government network project. He got that job despite having an arrest record for gun violence.
Aaron Alexis, 34, who was killed by police, was upgrading the Navy and Marine Corp.'s network. He was working for a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based firm called The Experts.
There isn't much information available on Alexis' IT skills, but there is much detail about Alexis' prior arrest record of reckless gun behavior, and it's going to raise a lot of questions.
Because Alexis was employed on a military IT project, he almost certainly needed a security clearance with a background investigation.
Alexis was arrested twice in the last decade for firing a gun, once into the ceiling of his apartment, and another time into the tires of a parked car. But that was not enough to keep him from working at a military installation.
The case of Edward Snowden, who leaked a trove of classified documents, raised similar questions about security vetting. But Snowden isn't known to be violent, and he argued that his motivations are justified.
There may have been nothing obvious in Snowden's background to suggest he would leak government secrets. But with Alexis, the police reports raise questions.
The firm where Alexis was employed, The Experts, was a subcontractor for Hewlett-Packard. According to HP, "Alexis was an employee of a company called 'The Experts,' a subcontractor to an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) network," HP said late Monday.
HP said that it is "cooperating fully with law enforcement as requested," and that it is "deeply saddened by today's tragic events at the Washington Navy Yard. Our thoughts and sympathies are with all those who have been affected."
In June, HP announced that it had been awarded a $3.45 billion project to build the Navy's "Next Generation Enterprise Network," or NGEN.
The project is intended to provide secure data and IT services, including data storage, e-mail and video teleconferencing to the Navy and Marine Corps, according to the General Accountability Office. That award was a continuation of a contract that HP has with the Navy.
Alexis was born in Queens, N.Y., and his last known residence was Fort Worth, Texas.
In 2004, Alexis was arrested in Seattle for shooting out the tires of another man's vehicle in what Alexis later described to detectives as an anger-fueled "blackout," according to police there.
Seattle police, in response to the Navy Yard shooting, posted details about the case: One morning, two construction workers had parked their car in the driveway of their work site next to a home where Alexis was staying. That's when Alexis came out and fired his gun at the tires.
Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, a former news reporter who now writes for the Seattle PD's blog, wrote that police learned that "Alexis had 'stared' at construction workers at the job site every day over the last month prior to the shooting.
The owner of the construction business told police he believed Alexis was angry over the parking situation around the work site, "and that he had been "mocked" and disrespected by the construction workers.
It's not clear what happened after that arrest. The Associated Press reported that court records show there was a hearing, and Alexis "was released on the condition that he not have contact with any of the construction workers." But the city attorney's office never reviewed the case for possible charges, AP reported.
In a separate case, Alexis was arrested in September 2010 in Fort Worth for firing a gun. That happened after police responded to a report that a bullet had been shot into a neighbor's apartment, according to The Smoking Gun, which posted the police report.
The upstairs neighbor "was sitting in a chair when she heard the loud pop and saw dust." Then she saw the hole, according to the police report.
Alexis had confronted the upstairs neighbor in a parking lot "about making too much noise." The neighbor told police that "she is terrified of Aaron and feels that this was done intentionally," wrote investigating police.
But Alexis told police he was cleaning his gun when it went off accidentally. The local district attorney dropped charges.
According to a statement released Monday night, and reported by the North Dallas Gazette, Alexis was arrested on Sept. 4, 2010, "by Fort Worth police on accusations that he recklessly discharged a firearm inside the limits of a municipality, a Class A misdemeanor. It was determined that Alexis was cleaning a gun in his apartment when it accidentally went off. A bullet entered an apartment upstairs. No one was injured. After reviewing the facts presented by the police department, it was determined that the elements constituting recklessness under Texas law were not present and a case was not filed."
The Experts, in an emailed statement late Monday, said it wanted to express "our deepest condolences and sympathies regarding the incident that occurred at the DC Naval Yards."
"We are actively cooperating with the FBI and other authorities in relation to the investigation on the suspect. Any additional information we have will be shared accordingly," the firm said.
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.