The Odd Messages Carved Into the Navy Yard Gunman's Shotgun

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 18 2013 12:57 PM

The Odd Messages Carved Into the Navy Yard Gunman's Shotgun

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Three members of the U.S. Navy walk out of the front gate of the Washington Naval Yard September 17, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Washington Post brings us one of the odder details to emerge from Monday's mass shooting at the Navy Yard:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Aaron Alexis carved bizarre phrases on the stock of his shotgun before he killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, and investigators are hoping the words provide clues to what prompted the shooting, two law enforcement officials said.
The phrases were: "Better off this way" and "My ELF weapon," according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
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The officials have cautioned that they do not yet know what, if anything, Alexis may have meant by etching those phrases into his weapon (assuming of course, he was the one who carved them in the first place). So, for now at least, the best anyone can offer is an educated guess, particularly when it comes to the second of the two phrases. On that front, the Post cautiously notes that ELF can stand for "extremely low frequency," and can refer to a variety of things from weather to communications efforts.

It's unclear based on the paper's reporting whether their sources pointed them in that direction, or if they made the ELF leap themselves. Regardless, there seems to be at least some supporting evidence for the theory. Alexis told police in Rhode Island last month that he was hearing voices in his head of three people who had been sent to keep him awake and were using "some sort of microwave machine" to send vibrations into his body to prevent him from falling asleep, according to police reports.

Another possible—although perhaps more far-fetched—interpretation of the ELF phrase offered by the Post is that it is a reference to some type of military project. The Navy uses extremely low frequencies in several capacities, as the paper notes, including as part of a joint project with the Air Force called the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, a government-funded research program in Alaska that studies the ionosphere but is often cited by conspiracy theorists who blame it for everything from earthquakes and hurricanes to mind control.

Those are the only two theories put forth by the Post, although, again, based on the report it's unclear whether they drew those possible conclusions themselves or whether those are the working hypotheses of federal investigators. (Given how little we currently know about Alexis and his motivation, ELF could obviously stand for any number of other things, including a reference to an Elf of the pointy-ear variety.)

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This post was updated with additional analysis.