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Family spokesman says Chattanooga shooter battled depression, drugs

Associated Press

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, 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 inpatient program for drug and alcohol abuse but a health insurer refused to approve the expense, said the representative.

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.

After returning from his time overseas, Abdulazeez was arrested in the pre-dawn hours on April 20 on a charge of driving under the influence. 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.

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