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FBI, friends search Aaron Alexis' past for clues

September 18, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

WHITE SETTLEMENT, Texas — Some of those who knew Aaron Alexis came to the Buddhist temple here late Tuesday looking for comfort -- and clues.

More than a dozen congregants slipped off their shoes and padded over the flowered rugs, past altars crowded with incense, vases of white chrysanthemums and portraits of Thai royalty, to sit and face a monk dressed in saffron and join in his chanted prayer.

They chanted together in Thai, in memory of Alexis who they said had embraced them, their language and their temple, Wat Busayadhammavanaram Meditation Center outside Ft. Worth.

A slight man emerged from the building shortly before 9 p.m. grimacing in pain.

“I miss his voice chanting,” said Ty Thairintr, 52, a tooling design engineer from Ft. Worth who had known Alexis for five years.

Alexis was so devoted to the temple, so dependable, congregants nicknamed him “Solid gold” in Thai, Thairintr said. That’s what they called him during their chanting.

Thairintr sat on the temple’s back steps and lit a cigarette. Nearby, a large metal bell loomed at the edge of dark woods. Worshipers believe that striking it three times in a row banishes bad karma, Thairintr said. Alexis rang it every time he came to the temple.

“Sometimes we would start the prayer and then we would hear the bell go and here he comes,” Thairintr said.

Alexis talked about his work for a military contractor, which took him across the country and overseas, including work in San Diego. When he struggled financially, the monks let him stay in a house behind the temple and loaned him one of their cars, congregants loaned him money and paid him for rides to the airport.

Thairintr said Alexis called him “big brother,” that they went dancing to '60s rock with women from the temple at Cassidy’s Bar & Lounge in Ft. Worth. Alexis had spent time in Thailand, dated a woman there and socialized with younger friends at a Thai nightclub in Ft. Worth. He had recently started a new job and was upbeat about plans to work for the military contractor in Japan, save enough to take a year off and return to train with the monks, Thairintr said.

“It baffles me that he did this,” he said as he sat facing the bell.

A sign beneath it was still visible in the dark: “Alcohol, drug and weapon-free zone.”

Thairintr and other congregants knew Alexis was a gun owner. But so were some of them. One even talked to him about hunting.

Thairintr shook his head, stretched out his hands and stared at them.  Alexis had been to his home, eaten his wife’s green curry. Now his wife was being interviewed by the FBI.

A half-dozen agents arrived at the temple along with congregants Tuesday, some even slipping off their shoes and joining the group inside.

Suddenly, Thairintr stood up.

“I’m going to ring the bell,” he said, his face still grim.

He took a dozen steps into the darkness. Like many members of the temple, Thairintr believes in ghosts, and doesn’t venture too far into the woods.

He struck the bell once, twice, three times. Then he strode quickly back toward the temple, toward the light, forcing an uneasy smile and saying to himself, “Now I feel better.”

Disturbing reports about the friend he thought he knew had shaken his faith in people Tuesday, but not his faith itself, Thairintr said. He still believed in forgiveness, and in reincarnation. So he prayed for Alexis to have a better life next time.

“What he did in this life,” Thairintr said, “he’s going to have to pay for.”

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