Chattanooga Gunman Had History of Depression and Substance Abuse

By May Wilkerson 07/20/15

Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez once tried to go to rehab for drug-and-alcohol abuse.

Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez
Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez. Photo via

The gunman who killed four service members in Chattanooga, Tenn., last week had a history of mental illness and substance abuse, according to reports from his family.

Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who also died during the attacks, was a self-described “Muslim redneck” who “loved guns, drugs and alcohol” and had been medicated for depression since he was a teen, according to a spokesman for his family.

The 24-year-old had also once tried to go to rehab for drug-and-alcohol abuse, but his health insurer denied the claim. His later buzzed about trip to Jordan was an attempt to self-medicate his substance problems, said the spokesman.

Abdulazeez was reportedly first medicated for depression around the ages of 12-13. “He was medicated like many children are,” said the source. “Through high school and college he did a better job sometimes than others staying with it."

Alcohol and drugs later became a problem, and in May 2013, he was fired from a job at a nuclear power plant in Ohio after testing positive for both illegal and prescription drugs. He also began expressing his suicidal thoughts in a journal, ABC News reported.

Though his family pushed him towards in-patient treatment, his insurance company wouldn’t pay for it. So instead, his parents sent him to Jordan, where he reportedly tried to “clean himself up” during the seven-month trip.

After his return, Abdulazeez was arrested and charged with driving under the influence this past April. According to a police report, he had “white powder on his nose” when he was stopped, and told the officer he had sniffed powdered caffeine.

The arrest and subsequent shame drove him deeper into depression, according to the family spokesman. Since then, he had been working nights at a manufacturing plant and was taking medication to help him sleep as well as prescribed muscle relaxants for a back problem.

On Thursday, Abdulazeez opened fire on two military bases in Chattanooga, killing four Marines and a navy officer and injuring others. He then either killed himself or died in the resulting gunfire. It is still unknown what substances were in his system at the time of the killings, as toxicology results have not yet been released.

In a statement released by the Abdulazeez family over the weekend, they expressed sympathy for the victims and also acknowledged their son’s battle with mental health.

“There are no words to describe our shock, horror and grief,” said the statement. “The person who committed this horrible crime was not the son we knew and loved. For many years, our son suffered from depression. It grieves us beyond belief to know that his pain found its expression in this heinous act of violence.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.