A Kuwait-born man who shot and killed five service members in Tennessee was first treated by a child psychiatrist for depression when he was 12 or 13 years old, a family representative said.
The representative, who spoke Sunday on condition of anonymity to avoid unwanted publicity, said 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez also fought drug and alcohol abuse, spending time in Jordan last year to help clean himself up.
The representative said relatives of Abdulazeez believe those personal struggles are at the heart of last week’s killings at a pair of military sites in Chattanooga.
“They do not know of anything else to explain it,” said the representative, who has been involved with the family since the shootings. The claim fits a pattern of behavior by Abdulazeez that includes a drunken driving arrest earlier this year and the loss of a job over a failed drug test.
Several years ago, relatives tried to have Abdulazeez admitted to an in-patient program for drug and alcohol abuse but a health insurer refused to approve the expense, said the representative.
“He was medicated like many children are. Through high school and college he did a better job sometimes than others staying with it,” the representative said.
Abdulazeez had spent several months in Jordan last year under a mutual agreement with his parents to help him get away from drugs, alcohol and a group of friends who relatives considered a bad influence, the representative said.
Counterterrorism investigators continue to interview Abdulazeez’s acquaintances and delve into his visit to Jordan, looking for clues to whom or what might have influenced him and set off the bloodshed.
FBI spokesman Jason Pack declined comment on whether investigators were pursuing mental health records for Abdulazeez. But FBI Special Agent Ed Reinhold told reporters at the most recent news conference about the case that agents were looking into all aspects of his life and had not yet turned up any connections to Islamic terrorist groups.
Abdulazeez opened fire at a military recruiting office and a Navy-Marine operations center a few miles apart on Thursday, killing four Marines. A sailor wounded in the attack died Saturday.
While Abdulazeez sometimes expressed misgivings about U.S. policy in the Mideast, his feelings didn’t seem extreme and there was no indication he was involved with terrorist groups while in Jordan, the family representative said. There was also no easy explanation for why he targeted military sites in the attack.
The representative said Abdulazeez had owned guns for years, going back to when he was a child shooting at squirrels and targets, and called himself an “Arab redneck” or “Muslim redneck.”
A year after graduating from college with an engineering degree, Abdulazeez lost a job at a nuclear power plant in Ohio in May 2013 because of what a federal official described as a failed drug test.
Recently, Abdulazeez had begun working the night shift at a manufacturing plant and was taking medication to help with problems sleeping in the daytime, the representative said, and he also had a prescription for muscle relaxants because of a back problem.
It’s unknown what substances were in the man’s system at the time of the killings, but toxicology tests should provide an answer.
After returning from his time overseas, Abdulazeez was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence in the pre-dawn hours on April 20. A police report said he told a Chattanooga officer he also was with friends who had been smoking marijuana. The report said Abdulazeez, who had white powder on his nose when he was stopped, told the officer he also had sniffed powdered caffeine.
The arrest was “important” because Abdulazeez was deeply embarrassed and seemed to sink further into depression following the episode, the representative said. Some close relatives learned of the charge only days before the shooting, the person said.
Bassam Issa, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, said he knew nothing of Abdulazeez’s problems, despite knowing his father well through the mosque. But, he added, that is not surprising. Drinking alcohol and using drugs is strictly forbidden in the Islamic faith.
“In our culture, if a son or daughter is having those sorts of problems, they keep it a secret because of the shame,” Issa said. “As a parent, you always want to be able to say your child is making you proud, not that they are struggling.”
A former college professor who saw Abdulazeez at their mosque six days before the killings said the young man didn’t seem different after returning from Jordan last year or during their final encounter.
“I just saw the same friendly guy as before,” said Abdul Ofoli, who teaches electrical engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where Abdulazeez graduated in 2012.
Ofoli, who sponsors the university’s Muslim Student Association, said Abdulazeez wasn’t very involved with the group to his knowledge and rarely said much in class but was a good student.
“He was brilliant,” said Ofoli.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
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