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What we know about the Chattanooga gunman: Family says he struggled with depression, drugs

Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez was the gunman who opened fire on two military centers in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Thursday, killing four Marines and a Navy sailor and injuring two other people before being killed, the FBI said. Abdulazeez's motive remains unclear, although a federal prosecutor said he is treating the case as an act of terrorism. Here is what we know about Abdulazeez so far:

He had lived in Tennessee for years

Abdulazeez was 24 and had been a longtime resident of the Chattanooga area.

He was born in Kuwait and became a naturalized U.S. citizen, according to a federal source who asked not to be named because of the ongoing investigation. In a statement Friday, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior denied Abdulazeez was of Kuwaiti origin, saying he had been born there in September 1990 during "the unjust invasion," a reference to the Iraqi aggression against the country during that time.

It's not clear when his family moved to Tennessee, but his parents bought their home in Chattanooga in Februrary 2001. Abdulazeez attended Red Bank High School, northwest of Chattanooga, where he was on the wrestling team. He graduated in 2008. He went on to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, graduating in 2012.

For the last three months, he had been working in Franklin, Tenn., for Superior Essex, a Georgia-based company that manufacturers wire and cable products, the company's chief executive confirmed Friday.

A blog linked to Abdulazeez mentioned Islam and jihad

In one post, Abdulazeez wrote that "this life is short and bitter," and that "the opportunity to submit to allah may pass you by." In one recent post, he wrote, "This life we are living is nothing more than a test of our faith and patience. It was designed to separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire, and to rank amongst them the best of the best and worst of the worst."

Another said, "Everyone one of them [the Companions of the Prophet Mohammad] fought Jihad for the sake of Allah.... Everyone one of them has had to make sacrifices in their lives and some even left all their wealth to make hijirah to Medina."

Two federal sources cautioned that those statements have not yet given rise to any reason for attacking the military.

He recently traveled to Jordan

According to a federal law enforcement source, Abdulazeez traveled to Jordan last year for several months. "It could be of great interest," the official said, "if it pans out. And since it was just last year."

According to the official, Abdulazeez had taken other trips to Jordan, but said "those were years ago, and of less concern."

Though a federal prosecutor said the case is being investigated as an act of terrorism, other federal law enforcement sources said it's not clear if Abdulazeez took it upon himself to mount the attacks or was inspired by others, including Islamic fundamentalist groups in the Mideast.

His family says he struggled with depression and drug abuse

"The person who committed this horrible crime was not the son we knew and loved," Abdulazeez's family said in a statement days after the shooting rampage. "For many years, our son suffered from depression. It grieves us beyond belief to know that his pain found its expression in this heinous act of violence."

The statement, provided to the Associated Press on Saturday, also says Abdulazeez's family is cooperating with the investigation and expresses sorrow for relatives of the victims.

On Monday, a family spokesman told the AP that Abdulazeez was first treated by a child psychiatrist for depression at the age of 12 or 13. He 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.

During an arrest on suspicion of DUI in April, a Chattanooga police officer observed that Abdulazeez was slurring his speech and that the smell of marijuana and alcohol was "coming from his person," according to a police report. The officer said he also noticed a "white powdery substance" under Abdulazeez's nose and that his eyes were bloodshot and watery.

Abdulazeez claimed that he had crushed and snorted caffeine pills and that he'd been around friends who were smoking pot and drinking, the report said.

He was smart, funny and sociable in high school

Photos of Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez in the Red Bank High School yearbook. (Chattanooga Times Free Press)

In high school, Abdulazeez was a sociable, smart student with a proclivity for science and math and a sharp sense of humor, said Terry Jones, an electrical engineer who now lives in Knoxville, Tenn., and said he was one of Abdulazeez's closest friends when they were teenagers.

"He had a really easy-to-get-along-with personality," Jones, 25, told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview. The two shared a favorite band -- System of a Down -- and an interest in media and filmmaking, and they took art classes together, Jones said. "Every art assignment, he would put a funny or humorous spin on it. He was kind of the funny guy in that class," he said.

Kevin Emily, 45, Abdulazeez's high school wrestling coach, said that he wrestled for the team for most of his high school career, and during that his last two years was a starter and team leader.

"Mohammod was very humble. He always did what I asked him to do; he never gave me any problems," Emily told The Times in a phone interview from Iowa, where he now lives. "All the guys seemed to like him. He was not an outsider." Emily recalled that Abdulazeez was popular and had many friends, including some at other high schools.

In the school yearbook, Abdulazeez's senior quote seemed to be a joke: "My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?"

He was said to be a devoted Muslim with a caring mother

Abdulazeez was deeply religious, observing prayers five times a day and fasting during Ramadan, according to Jones, who never knew him to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or do drugs.

Emily said he sometimes took breaks from practice to pray and excused himself for occasional religious events. One summer, in an effort to get to know his wrestler better, Emily asked Abdulazeez about his faith and his background. "He was open with me, in talking about everything. I never got any indication of anger or resentment or anything out of it."

Jones played on the school's tennis team with Abdulazeez's younger sister, Yasmeen Abdulazeez, and the siblings' mother regularly attended their games. "She was just like any other mom," he said. "She was super nice, super caring."

Yasmeen Abdulazeez was featured in the Chattanooga Times Free Press twice in 2010, when she was 17. In one story, which includes audio of her speaking, she talks about the stares she got after deciding to wear a hijab, the head covering worn by many Muslim women. She said she wore it as personal choice to proudly show her faith. In another story that focuses on Muslim teens seeking acceptance, she said she used harassment as an "opportunity to dispel misconceptions about her faith."

"I'm not afraid to go straight toward them and ask them, 'Do you really know what Islam is?'" Yasmeen Abdulazeez told the Times Free Press. "There's this misconception that Islam is a violent religion. Muslims are actually peaceful."

His mother once filed for divorce, alleging that his father 'repeatedly beat' and assaulted her

According to Hamilton County court records filed in Chattanooga, his mother, Rasmia Ibrahim Abdulazeez, filed for divorce from his father, Youssuf Saed Abdulazeez, in 2009. In court documents, his mother alleged that she and her children were "repeatedly beaten" and said that at one point she fled to a crisis center.

Her husband, the court documents said, also had "announced that he intends to take a second wife, as permitted under certain circumstances under Islamic law, in the parties' native State of Palestine."

Family members from Kuwait and Washington, D.C., flew in to intervene, but her husband became "more abusive" after they left, she claimed.

She said in court documents that her husband had control of all of their money and property and that she'd been able to save "just a few dollars each week" and had no independent skills to support herself.

Her husband was issued a summons to appear to defend himself, but never did. Three weeks later, the couple dropped the matter and signed an agreement saying they'd decided to "reconcile" their differences.

His father once appeared on a terrorist watch list

Youssuf Saed Abdulazeez was once listed on a terrorist watch list, according to a federal law enforcement official. The source said his name was attached "in reference to a militant group," some years ago.

He was never charged with anything, and has been cooperating with the current investigation into his son, the official said. Many immigrants in the U.S. came under increased scrutiny after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The father was eventually dropped from the list.

The elder Abdulazeez graduated in 1983 from Texas A&M University and works as a soil engineer for the city of Chattanooga, according to the source.

He majored in electrical engineering

Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez graduated in 2012 from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and has a degree in electrical engineering, the university confirmed.

During college, Abdulazeez appears to have participated in mixed martial arts, and fought in at least one official match in 2009. About five years ago, he also had an internship at the Tennessee Valley Authority, a U.S.-owned corporation that produces electricity and provides flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system.

He worked for a time in Ohio and lost a job at a nuclear power plant

Abdulazeez was "conditionally employed" as an engineer at Perry Nuclear Power Plant for 10 days in May 2013, according to FirstEnergy of Ohio. He was fired because "it was determined he did not meet minimum requirements for ongoing employment," according to a memo released by the company.

During that period, FirstEnergy said, Abdulazeez was not given unescorted access to the facility, and "never entered the secured area" of the plant. He stayed in an administrative building while being trained, and he didn't have access to sensitive plant information, the company said.

FirstEnergy said it notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and federal law enforcement as soon as they recognized Abdulazeez from media reports.

A representative for Medra, a marketing company in Independence, Ohio, also told WKYC-TV that Abdulazeez had worked there, but it is unclear when or for how long.

He was arrested in April on a DUI charge but seemed to have no other serious criminal history

Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez's April mug shot. (Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)

He was arrested April 20 in Hamilton County, which includes Chattanooga and Hixson, on a first-offense DUI charge, according to a record obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press. (The record misspells his name.)

On Thursday, officials say, Abdulazeez pulled up to the recruiting center in a gray Ford Mustang on Old Lee Highway in Chattanooga between 10:30 and 10:45 a.m. and fired more than two dozen rounds. No one was reported injured there.

The gunman fled by car as police chased him toward the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway, a few miles away. He jumped out of the convertible, which had its top down, and "almost instantly" started firing, a federal source said. Four Marines were killed at the second location, and three others, including a police officer, were injured. Abdulazeez died at the scene.

Abdulazeez used three weapons during the attack, a hand gun and two long guns. Some of the weapons were bought legally and some were not, official said. They offered no further details.

Those who knew him are shocked

High school friend Jones and Abdulazeez largely lost touch after high school, but Jones said they checked in once in a while via Facebook chats, and nothing seemed unusual.

Abdulazeez's old wrestling coach Emily said when he began getting calls and text messages from former team parents and wrestlers Thursday, he couldn't believe it.

"I just sat there in my car, just stunned," he said. "There was nothing out of the ordinary. He came from a good family. I don't understand what went wrong with him."

"As a teacher, we all have some students that we see throughout our teaching career, and we think, 'Yeah, I saw that coming.' With Mohammod, no. He was a leader on the team. He led by example."

Times staff writers W.J. Hennigan, Ryan Parker, Christina Littlefield and Tina Susman contributed to this report.

READ MORE: Mourners in Chattanooga honor the slain, now including a Navy sailor

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UPDATES

July 20, 4:19 p.m.: Updated with a family statement saying Abdulazeez fought drug and alcohol abuse, and information from an April 2015 arrest report.

July 19, 3:33 p.m.: Updated with a family statement saying Abdulazeez suffered from depression.

July 19, 3:10 p.m.: Updated with the death of a Navy sailor.

July 17, 3:50 p.m.: Updated with additional information about Abdulazeez's prior employment and connections to Ohio.

July 17, 2:07 p.m.: Updated with information about the divorce filing by Abdulazeez's mother.

July 17, 12:49 p.m.: Updated with information about where Abdulazeez was living.

9:08 p.m.: Updated with information about where Abdulazeez was living.

6:22 p.m. Updated with additional interviews with people who knew Abdulazeez.

July 16, 7:35 p.m. Updated with more details about today's events.


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