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Parents warned police of Pentagon shooter's bizarre mental state

A shooting Thursday evening at the Pentagon entrance by a lone gunman leaves two police officers hurt. The suspected shooter, John Patrick Bedell, has died.

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By Mary Pat Flaherty, Theresa Vargas and Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 6, 2010

In the eight weeks before John Patrick Bedell put on a white shirt and blazer, parked his 1998 Toyota at the Pentagon City mall and emerged ready to open fire at officers standing outside the Pentagon, he had crisscrossed the country in a frenetic and sometimes doped-up state that had his parents so worried they alerted police that he might be armed.

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On Thursday evening outside the Pentagon Metro station, Bedell, a troubled 36-year-old Californian who loved marijuana, computers and conspiracy theories, shot two Pentagon officers. Three officers fired at Bedell, and he was hit in the arm and head; he later died.

Police records and interviews with those who knew him describe a man who had been slipping into increasingly disturbed thinking for years but whose behavior became uncharacteristically erratic only in recent months.

"We may never know why he made this terrible decision," Bedell's family said in a statement Friday. "One thing is clear though -- his actions were caused by an illness and not a defective character."

In early January, a Texas Highway Patrol officer stopped Bedell near Texarkana, Tex., for speeding. Bedell's car was in "disarray," the officer noted, and the driver was lurching up and down and rocking on his knees, repeatedly hanging up on a series of cellphone calls that Bedell said were from his mother. Concerned about Bedell's mental state, the officer called his parents and learned that they had filed a missing persons report -- one that noted Bedell had been "detained for mental evaluation before."

Police records show that Bedell's mother, Kaye, who works as director of allied health at Gavilan College in Gilroy, Calif., told the Texas police that her son was all right, and he was sent on his way. Bedell, according to police, said he was heading to the East Coast but instead drove home.

He wouldn't stay long. On Feb. 1, Bedell hit the road again and was stopped by an officer in Reno. He had drifted across traffic lanes and stopped yards short of a stoplight, according to a police report. Bedell was charged with possession of marijuana after a pink pot pipe was found in his pants pocket.

Bedell made bond. On Thursday, he showed up at the Pentagon, parked in the Pentagon City Fashion Centre garage and made his way to the Pentagon's main entrance. There, in an exchange that lasted less than a minute, two officers, Jeffrey Amos and Marvin Carraway, were superficially wounded, one in the shoulder and one in the thigh. They and a third officer returned fire, mortally wounding Bedell.

Buzz Hawley, 40, a lawyer from Fairfax County, was waiting for a bus outside the Pentagon when shooting started about 30 yards away. "We just heard this flurry of pops -- about 10 to 15," he said Friday. "Everybody just sort of stood there. We didn't know what to make of it. You'd think we'd have headed for cover. A woman next to me said, 'Gosh, we're sitting ducks standing here.' It went on for a good seven seconds. Rapid fire. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. It just kept going."

Federal law enforcement sources said Bedell used a Sturm 9mm and a Taurus 9mm. Officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said that it could take several days to trace the source of the guns he used and that they are working with authorities in California.

"Hopefully, we can find out how these guns came into his possession. At this point, we still can't say," said Special Agent Mike Campbell, spokesman for the ATF Washington Field Office. "Unfortunately, not every trace is successful."

Richard S. Keevill, chief of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, said police and the FBI are examining surveillance video that shows Bedell approaching the Pentagon and have tracked his weeks-long road trip from California to the Washington area.


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