CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee — The gunman who killed five service members at a Tennessee military center suffered from depression and “was not the son we knew and loved,” his family said.
“It grieves us beyond belief to know that his pain found its expression in this heinous act of violence,” the family of Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez said in a written statement Saturday.
“We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the honorable servicemembers and police officers who were victims of the shooting our son committed on Thursday in Chattanooga, Tennessee — our community, and one we have loved for over twenty-five years.”
They were the first public words from the family since the rampage at two military sites Thursday.
But CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes said depression doesn’t necessarily make anyone more likely to kill.
“I think mental health professionals would be not happy with what the parents are assessing, in saying, ‘Well, he was depressed, and therefore that’s why he became a killer like this,'” Fuentes said.
“People with depression do not turn, necessarily, into psychopathic killers — as he did.”
Abdulazeez, 24, first shot up a recruiting center in a strip mall. But several Marines who were at the center happened to be combat veterans, who went into combat mode and helped get everyone out through the back door, a senior Defense Department official said.
No one was was killed in that attack. But the gunman wasn’t done.
He drove about 7 miles across town and opened fire at a Navy operational support center.
Dozens of bullets flew. Abdulazeez killed U.S. Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith as well as four Marines: Thomas Sullivan, Squire “Skip” Wells, David Wyatt, and Carson Holmquist.
Two injured people survived: a Marine recruiter who was shot in the leg and a responding Chattanooga police officer, Dennis Pedigo, who was shot in the ankle.
Abdulazeez kept police at bay before he was eventually shot.
“All indications are he was killed by fire from the Chattanooga police officers,” said Ed Reinhold, special agent in charge of the regional FBI office. “We have no evidence he was killed by self-inflicted wounds.”
Authorities are trying to figure out why Abdulazeez — an accomplished student, well-liked peer, mixed martial arts fighter and devout Muslim — went on the killing spree.
But hours before the attacks, he sent what may have been an ominous text message to a friend, Reuters reported.
The text included a link to an Islamic verse, Reuters said. That verse reads, in part, “Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, then I have declared war against him.”
The New York Times said the FBI is looking into the text message.
U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said the shootings are being investigated as an “act of domestic terrorism,” but he noted the incident has not yet been classified as terrorism.
Reinhold said there is nothing to connect the attacker to ISIS or other international terror groups. Abdulazeez was not on any U.S. databases of suspected terrorists.
While Abdulazeez was a devout Muslim, he didn’t appear to be radical, according to some who knew him. He was born in Kuwait but became a naturalized American citizen.
Jordanian sources said Abdulazeez had been in Jordan as recently as 2014 visiting an uncle. He had also visited Kuwait and Jordan in 2010, Kuwait’s Interior Ministry said.
A longtime friend told CNN that Abdulazeez changed after spending time in the Middle East and “distanced himself” for the first few months after returning to Tennessee.
“Something happened over there,” Abdulrazzak Brizada said. “He never became close to me like he was before he went overseas. … I’m sure he had something that happened to him overseas.”
Abdulazeez’s family said it has been cooperating with investigators “and will continue to do so, as we understand there are many legitimate questions that need to be answered.”
“Having said this, now is the time to reflect on the victims and their families, and we feel it would be inappropriate to say anything more other than that we are truly sorry for their loss,” the family said.
Authorities have seized four guns connected with Abdulazeez, a law enforcement official said.
The assailant had a handgun and two long guns when police killed him at a Navy Operational Support Center; another rifle was seized when police searched his home, the official said.
Abdulazeez obtained at least one of his firearms from a seller via the Internet, law enforcement sources told CNN, and at least two other firearms were bought from licensed firearms dealers.
The handgun was registered in his name, the source said. Officials believe the shotgun and AK-47-style gun were legally obtained, the source said.
In response to the shootings, some governors have taken steps to increase security of National Guard recruiters and military facilities in their states.
States control their National Guard units, so governors can make decisions about Guard actions, whereas the president is commander in chief of the nation’s military branches.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has ordered National Guard members at six state recruitment centers to be relocated to armories until security is improved. In addition, qualified Guard members will be adequately armed.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure all of our guardsmen are safe,” Scott told CNN. “We’ve got to understand that we have people in our country that want to harm our military.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order will arm National Guard personnel at military facilities throughout the state.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin authorized the arming of certain full-time personnel in military installations throughout the state.
“It is painful enough when we lose members of our armed forces when they are sent in harm’s way,” she said in a statement “But it is unfathomable that they should be vulnerable for attack in our own communities.”