Not One but Two Tragedies in Washington, DC

Twelve people died in another senseless shooting at the Washington Naval Yard this past week. Now we are witnessing the families of the wounded grieve their losses. It is alarming to think that while these people were simply doing their jobs that Aaron Alexis could enter this environment in a shooting spree. How many similar tragedies must occur before we act?

 Threats to our safety and paying attention to the warning signs

Aaron Alexis shooting
Alexis’ family was convinced that he suffered from PTSD from his experience in New York City as a part of the September 11th rescue effort. (image courtesy of

The tragedy in Washington, DC this week has again threatened our sense of public safety. However, a second tragedy is the lack of response to Alexis’ display of early warning signs of trauma.

His family was convinced that he suffered from PTSD from his experience in New York City as a part of the September 11th rescue effort. His history was replete with gun discharges, anger problems, a self-proclaimed black-out (when he fired his weapon) and other related examples. Three documented incidences of hallucinations showed he really needed help for mental illness. Incredibly, he maintained a high level security clearance which put him in a position to accost individuals when he flew into a homicidal rage.

It is interesting how friends, employers, the Veteran Administration and others were all concerned but either were too overwhelmed or unable to provide him with the help that he desperately needed.

The second tragedy in this story is that Aaron Alexis had sent so many early warning messages.

Alexis was struggling to maintain stability. Dissociation, intense anger and a host of other emotions he displayed indicated his desperate need for help that he never received. Why was he permitted to carry a weapon when he was demonstrating a level of instability that even frightened his neighbors? Though police were informed, very little was done to deal with an admission of black-outs accompanied by the unknowing discharge of his weapon.

I am not one to look into the past and criticize those who were in the know about Aaron’s condition. However, it is to me yet another reason that we need to be knowledgeable and vigilant about the symptoms of PTSD, mental illness and out-of control anger.

Alexis most probably realized that he needed help.

It appears that he was in environments where he either demonstrated aggressive behavior or actually asked for help and his problems were not addressed. For all of us, keeping a safe society means that we take seriously any signs of PTSD or other mental disorders as we see them in our friends, family members, employees and certainly in our veterans. We need to understand the appropriate responses to an individual with these types of issues.

We also need to provide vital services to the victims of PTSD . To ignore these signs is to risk the recurrence of another tragedy as we witnessed in DC. I am certain if those who knew Aaron Alexis foresaw what he was going to do they would have been more vigilant to provide the right help for him.

I recognize we cannot prevent all tragedies like this one.

But I do know from my work with individuals who have struggled with PTSD and other mental issues that they resolve these types of issues with the right therapeutic process. These individuals can change, grow, and become responsible again. I do hope we can answer the pleas for help to prevent both types of tragedies.

We grieve the loss of these 12 individuals and offer prayers and God’s comfort to their families. We also grieve that we could not prevent this horrid incident by answering Alexis’ long outcry of help. Let us all be diligent to make sure we are alert and aware to the needs of those around us. We could be preventing another double tragedy.

Gerald W. Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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