© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Investigators Seek The Gunman's Motivation In The Chattanooga Shooting


We can paint just a bit more of a picture of Mohammad Abdulazeez. He's the man who shot up two military installations in Tennessee. He killed four Marines and a sailor before he was killed himself, leaving unanswered the question of why.


Our colleague Dina Temple-Raston reported this week that he suffered from depression and drug abuse. Two years ago, after losing a job, he wrote a note saying he would rather be dead than alive. He was also following the words of a cleric who spoke of cleansing one's sins by becoming a martyr.

GREENE: And to this we can now add new details of just what Abdulazeez did. NPR's Russell Lewis is in Chattanooga.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: At the site of the first shooting, the military recruiting office in a Chattanooga strip mall, a makeshift memorial to the victims gets bigger every day. There are hundreds of small American flags, red white and blue balloons, signs and pictures of the victims. People walk along quietly, looking and snapping photos. Chattanooga resident Tina Baggett wipes away some tears.

TINA BAGGETT: I'm just sad for the families. It just breaks my heart. It's senseless. It shouldn't - it shouldn't happen.

LEWIS: Baggett is upset about the attacks. She doesn't think the suspect, Mohammad Abdulazeez, had any mental health issues. She believes he planned what he did, knowing the military members were not permitted to carry weapons inside these buildings. Baggett now worries about her own safety.

BAGGETT: I don't own a gun. My husband has guns. But I never wanted a gun. I think they're - they're just bad. But I'm getting one. I think we're scared.

LEWIS: As Baggett talked, she looked at the plywood covering the bullet-riddled windows of the recruiting center. The FBI says Abdulazeez drove here and fired into the building from his car. Special Agent Ed Reinhold says the suspect then sped across town, crashing through a fence at the Naval Operational Support Center.


ED REINHOLD: The shooter exited his vehicle armed with an assault rifle, a handgun and numerous magazines of ammunition. A service member from inside the facility observed him and opened fire on him, firing several rounds at him.

LEWIS: Reinhold said that's when Abdulazeez entered the building, chasing and firing at the 22 people inside. One sailor was hit and later died. The FBI says the suspect exited the back of the building and then killed four Marines outside. By this point, the Chattanooga police shot and killed Abdulazeez.


REINHOLD: At this time, we're treating him as a homegrown violent extremist. We believe he acted on his own that day. We believe he entered the facility on his own. We do not have any indication that anyone else was assisting him on that day.

LEWIS: The FBI says the investigation is complex, and agents have a lot to work through. At the news conference, Reinhold said it was too soon to say if Abdulazeez was radicalized, but it's something they're examining. There were no details about the 24-year-old's mental health or results from toxicology tests. Navy Rear Admiral Mary Jackson says the military is also examining what happened.


MARY JACKSON: We are committed to investigate, review and guard against future vulnerabilities and to safeguard the security of our service members and their families.

LEWIS: Back at the memorial site, people were doing their own soul-searching.

GEORGE ALLEN: It reminds me of how horrific things have to get before we all come together as brothers and sisters, as we were meant to be in the first place.

LEWIS: George Allen says seeing the rows of flags and the tears takes him back to the September, 2001 terrorist attacks.

ALLEN: We were just Americans. And we had each other's back. And we all realized at that moment that we all bleed the same color. And that was love. And it sucks that it takes for tragedies like that for people to come together and appreciate each other as people.

LEWIS: As they have since Thursday's shootings, people come to this memorial day and night searching for answers, trying to understand why these things happen. Russell Lewis, NPR News, Chattanooga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.