A Kuwaiti-born U.S. citizen who gunned down five servicemen in Chattanooga, Tenn., appears to have been a “homegrown violent extremist” operating on his own, investigators said Wednesday as they revealed chilling details of how the shooting unfolded.
Officials said they are following hundreds of leads as they search for a motive in the July 16 assault by Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old who was raised in suburban Chattanooga. Abdulazeez was killed in a gunfight after he had opened fire, and FBI special agent Ed Reinhold told a news conference that he was shot by local police.
Reinhold gave a timeline of the shooting, saying it targeted two sites and began shortly before 11 a.m. local time when Abdulazeez drove to an armed forces recruiting center and fired shots at it from his car. He then proceeded to a joint Marine and Navy reserve center a few miles away.
By then, he said, Chattanooga police were in pursuit but they could not catch up to Abdulazeez before he crashed through the front gate of the reserve center.
Once inside the gate, Reinhold said, Abdulazeez got out of his car armed with an assault rifle, a handgun and “numerous magazines.” One service member spotted him from inside the building and fired. Abdulazeez fired back, then approached the building’s front door, walked inside and “shot the first person he saw,” Reinhold said.
The victim fell, mortally wounded.
“He then made his way through the building, continuing to shoot at those he encountered,” Reinhold said.
Some fled out the back door, and someone apparently fired at Abdulazeez in an attempt to stop him, he said. Among the weapons found inside the facility were two belonging to service members. At least one had been discharged, but officials said they had not determined if anyone was struck by fire from that weapon.
As people fled out the back door, Reinhold said, Abdulazeez went after them and shot to death four in the gated motor pool area. That is where Chattanooga police encountered the shooter and killed him.
Reinhold said the episode -- from the moment Abdulazeez crashed through the gate until he was killed -- lasted three to five minutes.
Unlike some other mass shooters, Abdulazeez appeared to most friends to lead a well-adjusted life absent of outward signs of radicalization. Friends from high school have described him as a popular athlete who did well in classes.
But in the days before the shooting, he had started a blog that equated his life with being in prison, and he praised the most devoted disciples of the prophet Muhammad for waging jihad to establish Islam. Abdulazeez had lost a job in Ohio in 2013, and he was charged with DUI last April.
Reinhold said it was too early to say if Abdulazeez had become a radicalized or if something else led to the attack. The Associated Press reported this week that Abdulazeez’s family said he had suffered from depression.
Reinhold said investigators had heard the same reports and were looking into them.
“At this time, we’re treating him as a home-grown violent extremist,” said Reinhold, who would not give details of what investigators had learned so far from Abdulazeez’s family and friends or from a computer and other items taken from his home. “We believe he acted on his own that day,” Reinhold added. “We don’t have any indication anyone else was assisting him.”
On Monday, a family spokesman told the AP that Abdulazeez was first treated by a child psychiatrist for depression at age 12 or 13. Abdulazeez also battled drug and alcohol abuse, said the family representative, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Relatives tried to have Abdulazeez admitted to an in-patient drug program, the family spokesman said, but their insurance turned down the expense. They also sent him to Jordan for several months in an attempt to get him away from drugs and alcohol, the spokesman said.
Reinhold would not say where Abdulazeez obtained the weapons he used in the attack.
Marine Maj. Gen. Paul W. Brier said the troops at the second facility were inspecting their equipment after having returned from a training mission in California. He said troops went from room to room, trying to get others to safety, and that some ran back into the fight as Abdulazeez fired.
“They will be missed but never forgotten,” Brier said of the four Marines and one Navy petty officer who died.
The youngest, Lance Cpl. Squire K. Wells, known to friends as Skip, was 21. Wells, who was from Cobb, Ga., enlisted in the reserves in February 2014. Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, 40, of Springfield, Mass., was an 18-year veteran who served two tours in Iraq and won two Purple Hearts.
Also killed were Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt, 35, who grew up in Ozark, Ark.; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, 25, of Polk, Wis.; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, 26, who grew up in Paulding, Ohio.
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