Aaron Alexis: My kingdom for a good night’s sleep

September 19, 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Good afternoon:

The Aaron Alexis case is about gross indifference and lack of effective medical care for our brothers and sisters who are mentally ill.

The Washington Post reports today that

Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis had sought treatment for insomnia in the emergency rooms of two Veterans Affairs hospitals in the past month, but he told doctors he was not depressed and was not thinking of harming others, federal officials said Wednesday.

Those walk-in visits came just two weeks after Alexis had called police in Rhode Island to report hearing voices and feeling vibrations sent through his hotel-room walls. On Aug. 23, he went to a VA hospital in Providence. Five days later, he went to another one in Washington, seeking a refill of the medication he had been prescribed in Rhode Island, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

In both cases, doctors sent Alexis home with the medication, identified by law enforcement officials as Trazodone, a generic antidepressant that is widely prescribed for insomnia. The VA doctors told him to follow up with a primary-care doctor. It is unclear whether he did.

“Mr. Alexis was alert and oriented, and was asked by VA doctors if he was struggling with anxiety or depression, or had thoughts about harming himself or others, which he denied,” the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a memo sent to Congress on Wednesday.

This article brings back frustrating memories.

As I reported yesterday, we invited our delusional and paranoid friend to stay with us in order to prevent him from hurting himself or others. Nothing we said or did appeared to make any difference. He could not sleep and his delusions worsened over the course of several days.

We realized that he needed psychiatric assistance so we took him to a nearby hospital ER. The triage nurse agreed, but all of the hospital psychiatrists worked in the secure mental health clinic and no ER patient could see a psychiatrist unless the screener admitted the patient to the clinic for a mental health assessment. Despite our friend’s obvious mental and emotional agitation, the screener refused to admit him to the clinic when our friend insisted that he only needed a good night’s sleep and denied that he was a danger to himself or to others.

The ER doctor subsequently capped the frustrating visit with a refusal to write a prescription for an effective sleep medication.

We scheduled appointments with various psychiatrists on a serial basis, a frustrating process by which we learned that, unless they have committed a violent crime injuring another person, no effective psychiatric relief is available to help a mentally disturbed person who refuses to admit that they are a danger to themselves or to others.

In other words, you cannot get there from here.

Aaron Alexis eventually figured this out during the six-week period of intensifying paranoid delusions, inability to sleep, and rising anxiety over losing his job and everything for which he had worked.

13 people are dead. This tragic case is not about collecting and maintaining better cross-referenced records so that people can be publicly identified and humiliated as mentally ill and have their security clearances revoked.

Mental illness comes and goes. Bipolar disorders can be managed with appropriate medication.

This case is about gross indifference and lack of effective medical care for our brothers and sisters who are mentally ill.

The deaths of Aaron Alexis and the 12 people he killed were preventable

September 18, 2013

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Good afternoon:

The L.A. Times has two articles that leave little doubt that Aaron Alexis had suffered a psychotic break and was delusional when he shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard.

In the first article, Richard A. Serrano, David Cloud and Molly Hennessy-Fiske tell us that he heard voices:

Six weeks ago, Aaron Alexis told people someone had threatened him at an airport in Virginia. A few days later, in Rhode Island, he heard voices. He thought people were speaking to him through “the walls, floor and ceiling” of the Navy base there, where he was working.

In his hotel room, the voices used “some sort of microwave machine” to send vibrations through the ceiling and into his body, a police report shows him saying. He could not sleep.

Alexis frequently moved as part of his contract work at military installations from New England to North Carolina; he arrived in Washington on Aug. 25. He switched hotels several times until Sept. 7, when he finally settled into the Residence Inn — a mile from his new workplace at the historic Washington Navy Yard on the capital’s waterfront.

On Saturday he visited a gun shop in the Virginia suburbs. He practiced firing a rifle, then purchased a Remington 870 shotgun and 24 shells. The short-barrel weapon, known popularly as a “riot gun,” is commonly used by police and the military.

In the second article, Richard A. Serrano informs us about two messages that Mr. Alexis carved into the wooden stock of his shotgun:

The shooter who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday carved two cryptic messages into the wooden stock of his shotgun – “(Better Off This Way)” and “(My ELF)” — according to a federal law enforcement official.

The messages appear to be the first clue into Aaron Alexis’ possible motive for attacking the base at the start of the work week after spending weeks drifting up and down the East Coast and complaining of hearing voices and believing he was being stalked by three unknown officials.

The messages were carved by either a knife or some other instrument into the wooden stock of the Remington 870 Express shotgun that Alexis bought two days before the shooting, the official said. “The first one (Better Off This Way) seems to have him saying he wanted to kill fellow workers or maybe expected to die himself,” the official said.

The second one, (My ELF), appeared to be a reference to “extremely low frequency,” and could refer to his belief that someone was penetrating his brain with microwave messages, which he had described to police in Newport, R.I., six weeks ago.

In the fall of 2003, Crane and I received an odd telephone call from a student we knew at Seattle University. The call seemed odd because he claimed loud voices in the walls of his apartment had prevented him from sleeping for several days. We decided to pay him a visit.

He admitted us to his apartment after we convinced him that we were not two impostors attempting to trick him into opening the door.

We spent about an hour checking his apartment and the rest of the building, which contained four apartments above an underground parking lot. We did not hear any voices or see anything out of order.

Because he remained uncharacteristically anxious and fearful, we invited him to come and stay with us for a few days. Fortunately, he accepted our invitation.

This incident kicked-off a bizarre month in which Crane and I took him to see mental health professionals and alternated sleeping during the night so that one of us would always be awake. The diagnosis was always the same: Rapid Repeating Bipolar Disorder with Paranoid Delusions. He disagreed with the diagnoses because the delusions were so real to him that he could not distinguish them from ordinary reality and the anti-psychotic medication dulled his senses.

We finally persuaded him to voluntarily enter a secure mental health treatment hospital after a couple of property destruction incidents in our home and a threat to kill us in our sleep.

There is no known cure for this condition, but the delusions can be smoothed out and managed with appropriate anti-psychotic medication. Fortunately for our friend, his parents can afford to pay for his health care and medication.

Had his financial circumstances been otherwise, he would be homeless, in jail or dead.

Mr. Alexis’s story is worse than any horror movie could be because it is real and the tragic result was so preventable.

Take care of your brothers and sisters when they are sick, because if you don’t, no one else will.


Aaron Alexis may have been suffering from schizophrenia

September 17, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Good evening:

I regret to report that I have been experiencing computer freeze-ups intermittently throughout the day and into the evening that have wreaked havoc with my effort to post a new article today. The problem may have been caused by an otherworldly large Windows 8 update. Computer is functioning well now, so let’s get started.

Aaron Ellis may have been suffering from schizophrenia and experiencing paranoid delusions on Monday.

Boston.com is reporting:

The man who gunned down 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard called police in a Rhode Island city last month to complain that voices were harassing him through a wall at his hotel and that he worried they might harm him. Police said Tuesday they alerted the Navy that day that Aaron Alexis was hearing voices.

According to a police report, two Newport police officers were called to a Marriott in town around 6 a.m. Aug. 7. Alexis told them he was in town as a naval contractor. Newport is the site of Naval Station Newport, the Naval War College and several military contractors.

Alexis, 34, a defense contractor employee, fired inside a building at the Washington naval installation Monday and killed 12, the FBI said. He was killed in a gunbattle with police.

In Rhode Island, Alexis told the officers he had gotten in an argument while boarding a flight in Virginia, and he believed the person he argued with sent three people to follow him. He said he never saw the people but believed they were using a microwave machine to send vibrations into his body so he could not fall asleep. He said he checked into two hotels previously, one on the Navy base, and could not get away from them.

He would not tell officers what the voices were saying. But he also told them he did not have a history of mental illness in his family and had never had any similar episodes, the report said.

‘‘He was concerned for his own safety,’’ Newport Police Lt. William Fitzgerald said Tuesday.

Later that day, Newport police alerted police at the naval station and sent them a copy of the police report because Alexis said he was a contractor, Fitzgerald said.

‘‘What he was claiming didn’t sound right,’’ he said.

A spokeswoman for the station referred calls to the FBI.

Fitzgerald said Alexis did not call police again, and it was the only contact his department had with him.

In other news today,

1. The Washington Times is reporting that the State of Florida is investigating the propriety of State Attorney Angela Corey’s decision to terminate Ben Kruibdos, the IT specialist in her office who publicly accused Bernie de la Rionda of withholding evidence favorable to the defense. This announcement is not news. It’s a natural and probable consequence of Kruibdos’s wrongful termination lawsuit. The decision to investigate is not an endorsement of the lawsuit. It’s the next logical step in the process.

2. Dr. Shiping Bao’s claim that the prosecution threw the case against Zimmerman still has plenty of legs. Here’s a link to the Grio’s report today summarizing that argument. The report contains some additional information that I had not previously heard.

3. The DC police now claim that only one shooter was involved in the Navy Yard shootings. Police have identified him as Aaron Alexis (34). He was honorably discharged from the US Navy 2 years ago.

4. Mr. Alexis worked as a government contractor for a company called The Experts, a subcontractor on an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet network.

5. He arrived in DC a couple days before the shootings and was staying at a Residence Inn with five other government contractors working at the Navy Yard.

6. The FBI said he had legitimate access to the Navy Yard “as a result of his work as a contractor.” Therefore, he had the requisite ID to be admitted to the building.

7. He drove a rental vehicle on Monday morning and parked it within a few blocks of the Navy Yard.

8. There is an atrium inside the building with a seating area on the ground floor adjoining a cafeteria. Mr. Alexis went up to the 4th Floor and fired down on people in the seating area.

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