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As the nation mourns the innocent victims of Monday's Navy Yard shooting, family and friends of the shooter reevaluate the man they thought they knew.
"I would never have believed this until it happened," said friend Michael Ritrovato.
"Aaron was a very polite, very friendly man," said another friend Kristi Kinard Suthamtewakul.
But with the image of 34-year-old Aaron Alexis now staring out from screens and newspaper covers worldwide, glimpses of his contradictory character are coming into full view.
From the outside, he was a veteran of the Navy reserve, honorably discharged in 2011 after serving more than three years. But records show Alexis's time in the service was troubled.
According to Navy officials, he was cited at least eight times for misconduct during his military career, including insubordination and excessive absences.
He had been arrested for gun violence once prior to enlistment, and was arrested twice more while serving. In 2008 he was charged with disorderly conduct, then arrested again in 2011 for firing a gun through his apartment ceiling.
He left the Navy in 2011. The next year he started working for The Experts, a subcontractor on a Hewlett Packard contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps intranet network.
He entered the Navy Yard Monday morning using his official security clearance.
"You have a documented case for this individual who misbehaved, the Navy knew it, but still when he got out, he was allowed to get a clearance. People need to be asking the question: Why?" said Kirk Lippold, former commander of the USS Cole.
Alexis had family in New York, but had been estranged from them for many years.
But in Texas, where he lived most recently, he was part of a community that revolved around a Buddhist temple where he practiced meditation.
"He just had an excitement for life, learning Thai, just getting involved with the Thai community, with the Buddhist temple down the road," said Suthamtewakul, who befriended Alexis in Texas.
Alexis used his Thai language skills as a server at a Texas restaurant, before departing on a recent trip to Thailand.
But despite his outward show of happiness, friends say the man they knew was becoming increasingly distressed, telling friends he was struggling with his finances.
"He called me several months ago saying they didn't pay him, his car was broke down, he didn't know what he was going to do," said Ritrovato.
According to two law enforcement sources, Alexis recently made contact with two VA hospitals, perhaps for psychological issues.
"He was very frustrated with the government, and how as a veteran he didn't feel like he was getting treated right or fairly," said Suthamtewakul.
Authorities are actively investigating the circumstances surrounding both VA visits.