A gunman killed a dozen people in a Navy office building in Washington, D.C. The shooter, who was also killed, was a contractor named Aaron Alexis. He does not seem to be an Islamic terrorist. At first, authorities said there were three gunmen, but the word now is that there was only one.
Still, there are lots of questions about this attack. For example, how did Alexis, with his history of mental illness and run-ins with the law, get his security clearance that allowed him to work at the complex? How did he get his gun–some reports have said a shotgun and others an assault rifle–through security? And how did he wreak such mayhem in a military facility bristling with armed guards? This incident at the Naval Yard is the second mass shooting at a military installation in the Washington, D.C., area, after the massacre at Ft. Hood. Why are our military installations so vulnerable to this kind of attack?
UPDATE: Two members of our church work there. They are OK, but I don’t know anything else. That really brings it home.
A gunman killed a dozen people as the workday began at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, creating an improbable moment of horror at a military facility with armed guards at every gate and leaving investigators seeking clues about what spurred the attack.
The alleged shooter, identified by the FBI as Aaron Alexis, 34, of Fort Worth, received a general discharge in 2011 from the Navy Reserve, a designation that usually signals a problem in his record. Alexis was arrested but not charged in a gun incident in Seattle in 2004 but still had a security clearance with a military contractor that would have allowed him access to the Navy Yard, officials said.
The suspect died when his mayhem ended in a fierce gun battle with police. Authorities said did not release the names of the victims, and many family members were still awaiting word about loved ones.
The shootings constituted the worst loss of life in a single incident in the region since the 2001 attacks on the Pentagon killed almost 184 people.
“This is yet another heartbreak for our city,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
Alexis left Texas about a year ago, and authorities made a public appeal Monday for help in tracing his movements since then. They said they believe he had been in the Washington region for about four months working as an hourly employee with a defense contractor.
“We don’t know what the motive is,” said D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). The mayor said there was no reason to suspect terrorism. Other officials said they do not know whether Alexis’s discharge played a role in the shooting but said that is one line of inquiry.
The shooting began about 8:15 a.m., when the echo of gunfire behind the walled security of a military base stunned people arriving to begin their workweek.
“I didn’t believe it,” said Alley Gibson, 28, who works in Building 197, were the shooting took place. “At first I was in shock. Nothing like this ever happens — especially not on a base. It’s just not normal. It’s wild — it’s like a movie.”
As people scattered for cover, they turned to text messages and office televisions in an effort to determine what was going on.
“We were sort of in the dark,” said John Norquist, 52, a Fairfax lawyer who served as a civilian adviser in Afghanistan last year. “We were trained in active shooter scenarios.”
The full weight of Washington’s vast anti-terrorism network converged on Southeast Washington within minutes of the first shots as local and federal law enforcement teamed to sweep the Navy Yard and the neighborhood along the Anacostia River.
The shootings threw the nation’s capital into turmoil, with police fearful that two other gunmen might be on the loose. Even by late Monday, police said they still were looking for one man to make a final determination on the number of shooters and were not ruling out the possibility of more than one.
Throughout the day, people were warned to remain in their homes and those at offices on the naval base and in the surrounding neighborhood were told to stay put. . . .
The Washington Nationals, whose ballpark is close to the base, were told to stay away from their stadium during the search. A critical game against the division-leading Atlanta Braves was postponed until Tuesday. The official Major League Baseball description of the game was stark: “Postponed: Tragedy.”
Investigators said Alexis shot a security guard outside Building 197, most likely with a shotgun he bought in Lorton in Fairfax County. He took the guard’s handgun before moving methodically through the interior, they said.
He shot 15 people, 12 fatally, and injured five others before he died, investigators said.
Among those injured was a D.C. police officer who was shot twice in the leg. The officer, Scott Williams, a 23-year veteran, and the other injured victims all are expected to survive.
“There’s no question he would have kept shooting,” said D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who declined to say how many shots were fired from start to finish. Police said they believe that Alexis also obtained an assault rifle once he was in the building, but it was unclear how.
Perplexing to those as the event unfolded around them, and puzzling to investigators in the aftermath: How did a man with a shotgun pass through one of three gates where Marine and Navy security personnel screen all visitors?
“I don’t think we know that,” said Valerie Parlave, the assistant FBI director in charge of the D.C. field office. “The investigation is still very active.”
Several former military officers who work in the building said that there are armed guards at the main entrance and that employees must scan an access card. But two people who work there said those with properly coded cards can enter through a side door from a garage, bypassing the security guards.
Alexis had been working much of this year as a computer contractor for a company called the Experts and appeared to have a government-contractor access card that would have allowed him into the Navy Yard and other military installations, according to company chief executive Thomas Hoshko.
Alexis had a security clearance that was updated in July, approved by military security service personnel.
“There had to be a thorough investigation,” Hoshko said. “There is nothing that came up in all the searches.”