Gunman kills dozen in shooting rampage at Washington Navy Yard
WASHINGTON — A mass shooting Monday morning at the Washington Navy Yard left at least 13 people dead, including the suspected gunman, and three wounded.
It was perhaps the most devastating shooting attack in the heavily guarded nation's capital in decades and sparked new concerns about security at U.S. military facilities.
District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier identified the gunman as a civilian Navy contractor, Aaron Alexis, 34, of Fort Worth, who was identified by fingerprints. An employee of a Hewlett-Packard subsidiary, Alexis was a full-time Navy reservist until 2011, last serving with a logistics support squadron in Fort Worth.
Alexis had “secret” clearance and was assigned to start working there as a civilian contractor with a military-issued ID card, his firm's CEO said.
“He did have a secret clearance. And he did have a CAC (common access card),” said Thomas Hoshko, CEO of “The Experts,” which was helping service the Navy, Marine Corps intranet as a subcontractor for a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services contract.
Once he got into a building at the Washington Navy Yard, he sprayed bullets on prone victims until police arrived, exchanging gunfire several times before he was shot dead.
Authorities had earlier said they were searching for a possible second suspect, but Lanier said authorities now believe there was only the lone gunman.
A potential third suspect was cleared of any involvement.
Alexis had a police record for gun-related incidents in the states of Texas and Washington, according to legal documents and law enforcement.
Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, owner of Happy Bowl Thai in the Fort Worth area, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Alexis was “my best friend.”
“He lived with me three years,” Suthamtewakul said. “I don't think he'd do this. He has a gun, but I don't think he's that stupid. He didn't seem aggressive to me.”
The FBI posted a “Seeking Information” notice about Alexis, showing his photograph and asking for help in piecing together how and why he was in the nation's capital.
“We don't have any reason at this stage to suspect terrorism,” said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, though he said it hasn't been ruled out.
A second-floor cafeteria off the atrium of the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, a workplace for 3,000 people, was bustling with morning traffic when one or more gunmen opened fire around 8:20 a.m. from a fourth-floor mezzanine, the Navy said. The wounded survivors described hearing a steady “pop-pop-pop,” but it was unclear whether the shooter had a semiautomatic weapon, said Dr. Janis Orlowski, the chief medical officer at the Medstar Washington Hospital Center.
Gary Humes, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as director of strategic operations for the Navy, told reporters that while inside the locked-down building, people searched their computers upon learning Alexis had been identified as the shooter. They found him listed as a computer specialist under contract in San Diego.
Navy contractor Sean Carroll described to McClatchy a chaotic scene once the shooting started.
“People didn't realize what you were supposed to do,” he said. “Just heard the sounds. It was really loud. You could hear the gunshots. That's a surreal thing. You're not really thinking. But it wasn't like, ‘Hey what's going on?' You know with the world we live in. You know, ‘Oh my God. This is Fort Hood.' ” Fort Hood in Texas was the scene in 2009 of a shooting by a member of the military that left 13 dead and more than 30 injured.
Security guards at the Navy Yard scrambled to engage the gunmen, and police officers arrived within two to three minutes, Lanier said, and “shooter teams,” assembled from several agencies, were on site within seven minutes. After several exchanges of gunfire, the assailant died in a final flurry with metro police, Lanier said.
Lanier credited D.C. police and the U.S. Park Police for preventing more bloodshed in the morning rampage.
“I think the actions by the police officers, without question, helped to reduce the numbers of lives lost,” Lanier said, calling the actions of first responders “nothing short of heroic.”
“This is a horrific tragedy,” Gray said. “I don't know if we've ever had one like this. Nothing like this in the District of Columbia.”
Three gunshot victims, including a police officer, were brought to MedStar Washington Hospital Center. At a news conference, Orlowski, the center's chief medical officer, said their chances of survival were good. She confirmed that all three victims were alert and talking when they arrived.
The wounded police officer was shot in both of his legs and underwent surgery to repair blood vessels and bones, she said. She said doctors would try to assess on Tuesday his chances of being able to walk again.
The other two wounded survivors are both female civilians. One suffered wounds to her shoulder and underwent hours of surgery. The other was shot in the head and hand, but luckily the bullet did not penetrate her skull, and she didn't need surgery, Orlowski said.
President Obama, who ordered flags at government buildings lowered to half-staff through Friday to honor the victims, vowed that his administration would do “everything in our power to make sure whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible.”
The neighborhood near the naval facility remained sealed off, with residents locked out and nearby schools locked down. The Senate was placed on a preventive lockdown early Monday afternoon, with votes postponed. The lockdown was later partially lifted. The Washington Nationals, whose stadium is just blocks from the crime scene, postponed their game Monday night against the Atlanta Braves.
The area around the Navy Yard, not far from Capitol Hill, had been sealed off by layers of law enforcement personnel from local and federal agencies. Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer issued a statement mid-afternoon announcing that no one would be allowed in or out of Senate offices, but later lifted it partially.
Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist, told reporters that she was near the cafeteria area when she heard some shots, followed by a break and then more shots. She and others fled the building. Someone pulled a fire alarm to alert colleagues of a problem.
The gunman was described by witnesses as carrying an AR-15 assault rifle, a double-barrel shotgun and a handgun.
An elite team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was dispatched to the scene, part of the same ATF Special Response Team Canine Program that helped capture the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing.
Employees at the Navy Yard complex, a former shipyard and ordnance plant turned naval administrative center, consist of civilians, service members and contract support personnel. They are responsible for engineering, building, purchasing and maintaining Navy ships, submarines and combat systems. The Naval Sea Systems Command is the largest of the Navy's five systems commands.