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At Texas prayer service, temple members recall the Aaron Alexis they knew

Kasem Pundisto, a buddhist monk, adjusts a string inside the temple once attended by Aaron Alexis Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, in Fort Worth, Texas. (LM Otero/AP)

The man who once knelt on the oriental rugs of a Buddhist temple and aspired to be a monk is now the Navy Yard mass murderer. The contradiction of Aaron Alexis is impossible to reconcile.

Members of Wat Busayadhammavanaram Meditation Center choose to remember the former Alexis. They barely mention the latter, and when they do, it is without blame or bitterness.

This oasis, tucked away on a lush patch of land in an otherwise stark stretch of White Settlement Road, feels immune to the news coverage of Monday’s shooting that killed 13, including Alexis.

On Tuesday evening, a moment dedicated to Alexis was a footnote to the temple’s hour-long daily prayer service. Twenty people filled the room, more than double that of a typical weekday. A monk in a deep golden robe shared the lesson that no one can prevent suffering or growing old, according to a member of the temple who spoke fluent Thai. He told the group that they would not live forever, so they must do good for others in this life.

Meanwhile, federal agents milled around outside, and journalists observed inside.

“It’s almost like a funeral,” said temple member Sulee Adams.

To her, Alexis was a generous member of their community. She chooses to continue remembering him that way. Alexis “kept so much inside,” she said, but she viewed him as a “noble guy.”

“He had a certain peace on his face, almost like the monks,” said Kathy Saburn, who regularly attends the temple’s meditation sessions.

Alexis was an active member of this Buddhist community throughout 2010 and 2011. In recent years, he was seen less frequently.

“I hurt for the people that lost their lives,” Saburn said. And she hurts for Alexis. “The man obviously was in hell.”

During the service, everyone knelt comfortably and chanted in unison.

Three monks faced a giant Buddha statue. Smaller statues, candles and fruit adorned the room.

Toward the end of the hour, one of the monks spoke in Thai and chanted a somber prayer with lingering notes. Without specifying Alexis’s name, he offered the hope that in his death, the community’s fallen member would find peace.

He didn’t mention the Navy Yard shooting, the mass casualties, or the man America met Monday morning. This service was for an entirely different Alexis.

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