A general view shows police and first responder activity on M Stree SE near the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16. Aaron Alexis, inset, is believed to be responsible for the shootings that killed 13. Alexis was among the dead. The FBI is asking for the public's assistance with information regarding Alexis. / Mandel Ngan / Getty Images
WASHINGTON — A shooting rampage at a U.S. Navy command complex in Washington left at least 13 people dead Monday, including a Navy veteran identified as the gunman, authorities said.
Aaron Alexis, 34, a civilian contractor from Fort Worth, Texas, was identified by officials as a shooter killed by officers responding to the the morning attack. A military official said Alexis had been a Navy reservist on active duty before being discharged for misconduct.
Based on Navy records, Alexis served in the Navy from 2007 to early 2011, leaving service as an aviation electrician’s mate third class. He last served as a full-time support sailor attached to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 46, a reserve unit based in Forth Worth. His decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and he is originally from New York City.
The carnage and desperate efforts by responding officers to stop the shooting gripped the nation’s capital city in a tense, day-long drama just miles from the U.S. Capitol and White House. Hours after reports that Alexis was dead, city officials said they had not entirely ruled out the possibility another shooter was involved.
Officials said at least three people were wounded in the gunfire inside building 197 at the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters at Washington Navy Yard, including a law enforcement officer. Hospital officials said all three were expected to recover.
Hundreds of workers in the Navy complex were forced to hide in place or flee for safety while gunshots echoed from a gunman firing into the cafeteria and other parts of the building.
Just a mile or so away at the U.S. Capitol, the Senate temporarily locked down all its offices and buildings. The U.S. House was not in session but did not suspend office functions.
President Obama said he is mourning “yet another mass shooting” and vowed to ensure “whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible.”
A federal law enforcement official said Monday that Alexis, who had been staying at Residence Inn in soutwest Washington since early September or late August, legally purchased at least some of the weapons used in the assault within the past few days in Virginia.
Alexis allegedly drove to the Navy Yard complex with the weapons early Monday and cleared security checkpoints before parking in a lot on the property, said the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly. After leaving his car, it is believed that Alexis was involved in two altercations in which he opened fire, killing one or possibly two people.
The official said Alexis allegedly then entered the building and proceeded to the third and fourth floors where much of the assault was carried out. He said Alexis did not appear to have an escape plan and it wasn't clear that he was targeting specific people.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said the shootings did not appear to be terrorism-related but said the possibility had not been ruled out.
The Washington Nationals baseball team, which plays its home games at a stadium close to the shooting scene, canceled its evening game. At nearby Washington Reagan National Airport, flights were disrupted and departures temporarily halted.
Helicopters filled the skies around the Navy complex on the Anacostia River in the Southeast quadrant of the city, an area that has seen a development revival in recent years. Some of the copters airlifted the injured away in baskets suspended beneath the aircraft.
Alexis was an online student at the Fort Worth campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing a bachelor's of science in aeronautics, the school said.
With the city on edge, the Secret Service arrested a man for tossing firecrackers over the White House fence late Monday. The Secret Service locked down the White House when the incident happened, fearing the pops could have been gunshots.
Gary Humes, a programs manager with the Navy, was entering the building where the shootings took place around 8:20 a.m. when he was met by people fleeing and warning of a shooter inside. He and more than 100 others ran to another building across the street, while others ran to the Navy museum nearby.
“I decided to go into work a little late this morning,” he said. “I guess God was with me.”
Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said one shooter was killed in an exchange of gunfire with authorities and one police officer was wounded. Federal officials identified the dead shooter as Alexis.
Internal security at the Navy Yard building had already “identified and engaged the shooter” by the time the first D.C. police arrived, Lanier said.
She said police exchanged gunfire with the shooter “multiple times” before the final gun battle.
“It’s one of the worst things we’ve seen in Washington, D.C.,” Lanier said.
Lanier earlier said authorities had information indicating there could have been more shooters. One was later cleared, but police still were searching for a man wearing a military-style uniform and carrying a long gun, she said.
Lanier said the FBI was taking the lead in the investigation. Gray said that as far as officials know, the shooting was an isolated incident.
A federal law enforcement official told USA Today that Alexis was armed with an AR-15, a shotgun and a handgun. The federal official, who requested anonymity due to the fluid nature of the investigation, said there is no firm evidence that anyone else fired weapons in the attack.
The official said surveillance video of the shooting was being reviewed, and that scores of investigators were interviewing hundreds of witnesses.
Alexis may have gained entry into the Navy Yard by using someone else’s identification card, said a federal law enforcement official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
Terry Durham said she was working in the Navy building when a fire alarm rang out. She was trying to leave when she encountered a shooter.
“We couldn’t see his face, but we could see him with the rifle,” Durham said. “He raised and aimed at us and fired. And he hit high on the wall.”
Rick Mason, a program management analyst who is a civilian for the Navy, said he was at the Navy Yard when a gunman began shooting from a fourth-floor overlook in the hallway outside his office. He said the gunman was aiming down at people in the building’s cafeteria on the first floor.
Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist, said she was in the cafeteria. “I heard three shots — pow, pow, pow. Thirty seconds later I heard four more shots.”
Then panic, as people tried to get out of the cafeteria. “A lot of people were just panicking. There were no screams or anything because we were in shock.”
Dave Sarr, an environmental engineer, was walking down a nearby street when he saw people running from the Navy Yard. Sarr has seen an evacuation drill a few days earlier at the Navy Yard. “At first I thought it was another drill,” Sarr said. “Then I saw an officer with his weapon drawn.”
President Obama made a brief statement, sending describing the victims as “patriots” and promising a thorough investigation. “I made it clear to my team that I want the investigation to be seamless,” Obama said.
The first news broke with the Navy reporting on its Twitter feed that there was an “active shooter” at Building 197 at the Navy Yard, and that three shots had been fired at 8:20 a.m. ET. The Navy later reported deaths and injuries, but details remained fluid.
Flights at nearby Washington Reagan National Airport were disrupted, with all departures temporarily halted at the airport.
At MedStar Washington Hospital Center, chief medical officer Janis Orlowski said the hospital was treating three victims — a male D.C. police officer and two women
She said the police officer had multiple gunshot wounds to his legs and was in surgery. One woman was shot in the shoulder, and the other in the head and hand. All are expected to survive, she said.
The Navy Yard is located on the banks of the Anacostia River, a few blocks from the Nationals baseball stadium. It’s in an urban area where the development of new parks, shops and apartments has been ongoing.
The Washington Nationals baseball team canceled Monday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves. A parking lot at Nationals Stadium was being used as a site for families seeking to reunite with loved ones who work at the Navy Yard.
The city had not decided how long the area by the Navy Yard, including the baseball stadium, would remain closed to the public, said Keith St. Clair, communications director for the deputy mayor for public safety and justice.
“Right now I’m asking God to help me get through this,” said Jacqueline Alston, whose husband Ernest Johnson is a contractor who works on the fourth floor of NAVSEA’s headquarters.
She described herself as “numb” while she awaits word on her husband, noting that he doesn’t have a cell phone as these are prohibited inside the building.
Naval Sea Systems Command is the largest of the Navy’s five system commands and accounts for a quarter of the Navy’s entire budget. It builds, buys and maintains the Navy’s ships and submarines and their combat systems.
NAVSEA headquarters’ security requires guests to pass through turnstiles that are watched by security guards before entering. Visitors must also turn in their phones and other electronic recording devices upon entry.
Capt. Michael Graham, who works at NAVSEA, was running late this morning coming in and by the time he arrived the base was already in a lock-down.
Graham said he had never seen a shelter in place drill in his five years at NAVSEA.
“I’ve never seen a shelter in place, I’ve seen the normal fire drills things like that, but never a shelter in place drill,” said Graham. “Normally the drills you have are to get out of the building.”
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert lives on the Navy Yard and was at home when the shootings started, a Navy official said. Greenert and his wife, Darleen, were quickly escorted off base and taken to the Pentagon.
This afternoon Greenert issued the following statement:
“Darleen and I extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of today’s events at the Navy Yard. Our team of Sailors and Navy Civilians at the Navy Yard deserve our care and concern at this time. I applaud the efforts of all who immediately responded to this course of events in order to care for the injured victims and ensure the safety of our personnel.”
Employees of Military Sealift Command and Navy History and Heritage Command, both based at the Navy Yard, are all safe and accounted for, Navy officials said.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus posted the following statement on his official Facebook page: “I’m deeply shocked and saddened by the shooting this morning at the Navy Yard. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. I have complete confidence in our first responders, and I continue to be completely focused on this very difficult situation.”
Marine Barracks Washington also put their base on a partial lock down, only allowing Marines to leave if they were on official business, said Capt. Jack Norton, a base spokesman. A small contingent from Marine Barracks Washington’s Guard Company serves at the Navy Yard, Norton said.
Family members looking for information about their loved ones can call 202-433-6151 or 202-433-9713.
Contributing: USA TODAY; Navy Times; WUSA TV; Associated Press