For D.C. residents, shock seems to subside quickly after shooting

| Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, 9:21 a.m.

WASHINGTON — Bert Bowen sat on a bench beside M Street, trying to drink his Starbucks coffee, wrap up a conversation on his cellphone and keep Sasha, his 8-month-old schnauzer, from leaping onto his lap or into the road.

A day after a gunman and his 12 victims died in a bloody rampage, traffic in this city of memorials rolled past.

“It's a sad state of affairs,” said Bowen, 48. A block to the west was his apartment, a modern, square gray building constructed during the housing boom that transformed Southeast Washington the past few years.

His friend works a block east of where he sat, in Building 197 in the Washington Navy Yard, where she hid from the shotgun-wielding man police identified as Aaron Alexis. Bowen picked her up after authorities lifted the Navy Yard lockdown on Monday evening. She told him she knew three of the victims and that she had seen blood on her way out of the building, he said.

“She cried all day,” Bowen said.

Sasha calmed down, and Bowen looked across the street at the line of television cameras blocking the sidewalk in front of a fenced-in lot. If not for them, the scene might look like any other day.

Inside the Navy Yard, it's different.

“We're all close family here. Everybody's going to be touched by this,” said David Berlin, 45, an assistant project manager at the Navy Yard whose office is in Building 197.

He had just pulled up to the building when the gunman's rampage began, and he saw people running through the doors to escape. Berlin turned around and tried to drive off the grounds, but guards had closed the gates. The facility was locked down.

Berlin hunkered down in a nearby office building, where he would remain until 6:30 that night and sent his wife a text message. He told her he was OK and that she would soon see something on the news but he was in a safe place.

Berlin said the Navy allowed only essential personnel back into their offices at the base on Tuesday, a sprawling complex of buildings where as many as 50,000 people work on a normal day.

On the National Mall, a place of stone reminders of lives lost, tourists moved about with family and friends. A group riding black Segway motorized scooters tooled past the World War II memorial and reflecting pool beyond, the unimpeded sun glinting off their safety helmets.

“I think society has a way of not taking care of people,” said Ken Gordon, 65, of Denver, who lives not far from where a gunman shot 12 people to death and injured dozens of others in a movie theater a little more than a year ago.

The Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue halfway between the Capitol and White House was nearly deserted on Monday night, the night before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid a wreath in remembrance of the Navy Yard victims.

Floodlights glared from four white masts onto the sloped, circular stone floor of the monumental plaza, illuminating the flattened white continents against the gray vastness representing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A woman asked a passing couple to take a photograph of her holding her small dog beside the bronze statue of a stoic sailor. Someone had placed a solitary bouquet of pink, purple and yellow flowers at the statue's feet.

Across the empty plaza, on stone benches carved into a curved wall at the southern end of the plaza floor's globe, Jeff Cole read quietly in the last light of the bloodiest day his city has seen since men flew a crowded airplane into the Pentagon.

Shortly after 7 p.m., about 40 minutes before the woman posed with her dog, he watched two National Park Service employees cross the plaza and lower the American flags halfway down the staff.

In the restaurants and bars along Pennsylvania Avenue, televisions over bars played news of the shooting at the Navy Yard less than two miles away.

“But nobody's really paying attention,” Cole, 38, said.

He sounded neither indifferent nor judgmental — just a little sad.

“People are getting immune,” Cole said.

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or

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