An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

FBI Still Searching For Motive In Chattanooga, Tenn., Shootings


The FBI released some new details today about what happened during those two shootings at military facilities last week in Chattanooga, Tenn. Five servicemen were killed. For the first time, the agency confirmed that the suspect, Mohammod Abdulazeez, was shot and killed by police. But as NPR's Russell Lewis reports, what authorities have yet to conclude is why he did it.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: The FBI says it's working almost 400 leads in the case and has an estimated 250 agents and investigators in Chattanooga. Special agent Ed Reinhold says they have hundreds of others working across the country and the world. And every day, they're learning new information.


ED REINHOLD: This is a complex and ongoing investigation, and we are still in the early stages of piecing together exactly what happened and why.

LEWIS: Reinhold says it's also too early to determine if Abdulazeez was radicalized, but they are pursuing that as a possibility - nor would he comment on reports of a history of mental illness and substance abuse. Agent Reinhold says they don't believe, at this point, he was working with others to launch this attack.


REINHOLD: At this time, we're treating him as an 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: Reinhold said on the morning of the shooting last Thursday, Abdulazeez drove to a military recruiting center at a strip mall and sprayed the exterior with bullets. He was armed with a military-style rifle and two handguns. He then rushed across town, crashing through a gate at the Naval Operational Support Center. Reinhold said a military service member fired at the suspect.


REINHOLD: The shooter approached the front of the building, entered into the facility and then shot the first service member inside the facility. He then made his way throughout the building, continuing to shoot at those who he encountered.

LEWIS: Reinhold said Abdulazeez shot and killed four Marines when he exited the back of the building. The military is not typically armed at facilities like this in the U.S. and is investigating the use of the service member's weapon in this case. By then, Chattanooga police had swarmed this area and returned fire. The entire incident took five minutes. There were 20 Marines and two sailors on-site. Marine Maj. Gen. Paul Brier said the death toll would've been higher if not for local law enforcement.


MAJOR GENERAL PAUL BRIER: We are incredibly thankful for the bravery of the responding police officers. Their immediate actions that day saved lives.

LEWIS: The FBI didn't release toxicology reports or discuss what they found on the 24-year-old's computer and cellphone.

At the site of the first shooting at the recruiting center, plywood now covers the shattered windows. Bright-green paint marks where investigators found the bullet casings. There's a makeshift memorial here, too - hundreds of flags pushed into the grass, pictures of the killed and the hand-drawn signs. Adrien White stopped by to look.

ADRIEN WHITE: This is an awful thing to happen here. I don't know. We're going to make it, though. We're going to make it through it. I just wanted to come out and just show my support. That's all.

LEWIS: Many in this city are still struggling to understand why someone who was raised here would do this. These are the same questions that law enforcement have, too. 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.