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Making sense of Navy yard shootings

We are just one day removed from the shooting in Washington's Navy Yard that tragically took the lives of 12 people. As the day unfolds, we are coming to learn the identities of the 12 victims: Michael Arnold, 59; Martin Bodrog, 54; Arthur Daniels, 51; Sylvia Frasier, 53; Kathy Gaarde, 62; John Roger Johnson, 73; Frank Kohler, 50; Mary Francis Knight, 51; Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46; Vishnu Pandit, 61; Gerald L. Read, 58; and Richard Michael Ridgell, 52. We pray for their families and the families of at least eight others who were wounded in yesterday's shooting.

Perhaps the biggest looming question remains the question of “why?” What was the motivation of the gunman who has now been identified as 34 year old Aaron Alexis, who was killed by police. At this point, there are no other suspects or gunmen being sought. Understanding more about Aaron Alexis is not for glorification, as many of these sick people crave, but to help us learn from our mistakes and make efforts to prevent future tragedy.

The portrait of the gunman is starting to be pieced together. Here's some of what we know, though there is always the possibility that some of this could change as more details are revealed.

Alexis was in the Navy reserves from 2007 to 2011, serving as an aviation electrician, though never served in combat. According to CNN, Alexis was honorably discharged after a "pattern of misconduct.”

He left the Navy in 2011, and most recently worked as an HP subcontractor for the military. As a result of his work as a contractor, Alexis had legitimate “secret security clearance” to access the facility and used his valid pass to gain entry on the day of the shooting. His security clearance had been renewed as recently as July.

He had an arrest history, though he was never convicted. In 2004, he was arrested in Seattle for shooting out a man's tires, angry about being mocked. In 2008 he was arrested for disorderly conduct in DeKalb County, Georgia. In 2010, he was arrested in Fort Worth, Texas but never charged after shooting a gun through the ceiling of a neighbor's apartment. He claims he was cleaning the gun.

Even though he is originally from New York, his last known address was in Forth Worth, Texas where he was known to attend a Buddhist temple.

According to the Associated Press, Alexis “has been suffering a host of serious mental issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder. He also had been hearing voices in his head.” He had recently been treated by the VA for mental problems. He is said to have suffered some form of PTSD, after working in a nearby building in New York City on September 11, 2001.

There are also some reports that Alexis was “obsessed with violent video games.”

In the days and weeks ahead, more details will come to light about Alexis' past as well as the nature of the shooting. For example, there are conflicting reports about the weapons he used. Some believe he only brought a legally purchased shotgun to the scene, acquiring a handgun and an assault rifle from his victims.

Needless to say, this information is important so that we can learn from it. Again we are faced with questions about the role mental health plays in these mass shootings, as we have now seen with Loughner, Lanza and Holmes. We also must question the security of our government facilities and the process of our background checks: How does someone with an arrest history and mental illness pass a background check and gain security clearance? Also keep in mind that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was a government contractor; Do we need a better system for screening these 4+ million people whom we trust with government information and abilities?

These are the questions we must ask ourselves in order to hopefully prevent future tragedies.