CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. » A Kuwait-born man who shot and killed five service members in Tennessee suffered from depression since his early teen years and also fought drug and alcohol abuse, spending time in Jordan last year to help him clean himself up, a family spokesman said Sunday.
The representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid unwanted publicity, said relatives of 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef 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.
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 spokesman 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. There is no explanation for why he targeted the military facilities.
Abdulazeez, who was shot and killed by police after a hail of gunfire, was first treated by a child psychiatrist for depression when he was 12 or 13 years old, said the family representative.
“He was medicated like many children are. Through high school and college he did a better job sometimes than others staying with it,” said the spokesman.
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.
The exact timing was unclear, but court records show Abdulazeez’s parents reconciled after his mother sought a divorce in early 2009 over claims that included physical abuse of both her and the children, and sexual abuse of her while the children were in the household.
The representative said that 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 slayings, 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.
AP reporter Eric Tucker contributed from Washington.