Law enforcement officers move Navy Yard personnel through the base with their hands over their heads as they respond to a shooting on the base in Washington, September 16, 2013. Several people were killed and others injured when at least one gunman opened fire at the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington D.C. on Monday, authorities said. One Navy official said that four people had died and eight others were injured, but other officials suggested caution over those numbers saying the situation was in flux. (JASON REED/REUTERS)
WASHINGTON — A mass shooting Monday morning at the Washington Navy Yard left at least 13 people dead, including a suspected gunman. Three others were wounded.
District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier said police have identified the gunman as a civilian naval contractor, Aaron Alexis, 34, of Fort Worth, Texas, who was identified by fingerprints. He was a full-time Navy reservist until 2011, last serving with a logistics support squadron in Fort Worth. He reportedly used a friend’s identification to get into a building at the Washington Navy Yard and engaged in multiple shoot-outs with police before being fatally shot.
Police remained engaged in a manhunt for another man believed connected to Alexis.
Three victims, including a police officer, were taken to MedStar Washington Hospital Center. In a news conference, Dr. Janis Orlowski, the center’s chief medical officer, said the chances of their survival were good.
The police officer was shot in both of his legs. The other two victims are both female civilians.
“We have no indication of any motive at this time,” Lanier said at her second news conference of the day.
The FBI was taking the reins of the investigation, the police chief said. Lanier credited D.C. police and the U.S. Park Police for preventing even 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.”
Because the attack happened at a military facility in the capital, there were immediate fears that terrorism might be involved. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told reporters there was no evidence one way or another on terrorism, and he confirmed there was uncertainty about reports of additional gunmen.
“We don’t know for certain if there were other shooters,” the mayor said.
At an earlier news conference, Lanier said two men, one white and one black, between 40 and 50, were sought for questioning. The white male was said to have been dressed in a tan military-style uniform with a beret-like hat, the black male wearing an olive-colored military-style uniform.
Later in the afternoon, police confirmed that the man in the tan outfit had contacted authorities and was cleared.
Workplace for 3,000
The shooting began inside the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters building, a workplace for 3,000 people, according to a news release from Naval District Washington.
Contractor Sean Carroll described a chaotic scene on the second floor once the shooting started near a cafeteria atrium in the building.
“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 that left 12 dead.
Carroll said the shooting did not sound like an automatic weapon used by military personnel.
“I heard the shots,” he said. “I heard people scream. ... It sounded like ‘pop, pop, pop.’ I could not characterize how staccato it was. It was not rapid fire. It was not automatic weapons. It was seven or eight shots in a couple of groups. This was over several minutes. The first shots seemed like a minute. Then when I ran I heard another couple of, not bursts, but ‘pop, pop, pop.””
Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist, told gathered 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.
Marathon team responds
Witnesses described one gunman dressed in dark clothing with what appeared to be a double-barrel shotgun, perched on a mezzanine and firing at a cafeteria atrium below. They said he appeared to be targeting who he was shooting at, rather than firing randomly.
The gunman was described by witnesses as carrying an AR-15 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 Monday, 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.
As word spread of a shooting at the Navy Yard, the end of the D.C. morning rush hour began to look like the crush of peak hour. At least two bridges into the nation’s capital were closed to traffic and commuters were forced to inch along side roads to get in or turn back and work from home.
Subway service was briefly interrupted, but no additional police presence was apparent. That argued in favor of a localized incident that didn’t spark fears of a wider terror plot. Security was also stepped up around the U.S. Capitol grounds and the Senate and House office buildings.
For tourists visiting the nation’s capital, a stepped-up police presence was noticeable in front of the Washington Monument and other attractions.