13 killed in Washington Navy Yard shooting rampage
by BRETT ZONGKER
WASHINGTON (AP) — The deadly attack at the Washington Navy Yard was carried out by one of the military's own: a defense contract employee and former Navy reservist who used a valid pass to get onto the installation and started firing inside a building, killing 12 people before he was slain in a gun battle with police.
The motive for the mass shooting — the deadliest on a military installation in the U.S. since the tragedy at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 — was a mystery, investigators said. But a profile of the lone gunman, a 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, was coming into focus. He was described as a Buddhist who had also had flares of rage, complained about the Navy and being a victim of discrimination and had several run-ins with law enforcement, including two shootings.
Monday's onslaught at a single building at the highly secure Navy Yard unfolded about 8:20 a.m. in the heart of the nation's capital, less than four miles from the White House and two miles from the Capitol.
It put all of Washington on edge. Mayor Vincent Gray said there was no indication it was a terrorist attack, but he added that the possibility had not been ruled out.
“This is a horrific tragedy,” he said.
Alexis carried three weapons: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun that he took from a police officer at the scene, according to two federal law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
For much of the day, authorities said they were looking for a possible second attacker who may have been disguised in an olive-drab military-style uniform. But by late Monday night, they said they were convinced the shooting was the work of a lone gunman, and the lockdown around the area was eased.
“We do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside the base today,” Washington police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
President Barack Obama lamented yet another mass shooting in the U.S. that he said took the lives of American “patriots.” He promised to make sure “whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible.”
The FBI took charge of the investigation.
The attack came four years after Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood in what he said was an effort to save the lives of Muslims overseas. He was convicted last month and sentenced to death.
In addition to those killed at the Navy Yard, eight people were hurt, including three who were shot and wounded, according to the mayor. Those three were a police officer and two female civilians, authorities said. They were all expected to survive.
The dead ranged in age from 46 to 73, according to the mayor. A number of the victims were civilian employees and contractors, rather than active-duty military personnel, the police chief said.
At the time of the rampage, Alexis was an employee with The Experts, a company that was a Defense Department subcontractor on a Navy-Marine Corps computer project, authorities said.
Valerie Parlave, head of the FBI's field office in Washington, said Alexis had access to the Navy Yard as a defense contractor and used a valid pass.
Alexis had been a full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to early 2011, leaving as a petty officer third class, the Navy said. It did not say why he left. He had been an aviation electrician's mate with a unit in Fort Worth.
A convert to Buddhism who grew up in New York City, Alexis had had run-ins with the law over shooting incidents in 2004 and 2010 in Fort Worth and Seattle and was portrayed in police reports as seething with anger.
The Washington Navy Yard is a sprawling, 41-acre labyrinth of buildings and streets protected by armed guards and metal detectors, and employees have to show their IDs at doors and gates. More than 18,000 people work there.
The rampage took place at Building 197, the headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command, which buys, builds and maintains ships and submarines. About 3,000 people work at headquarters, many of them civilians.
Witnesses on Monday described a gunman opening fire from a fourth-floor overlook, aiming down on people on the main floor, which includes a glass-walled cafeteria. Others said a gunman fired at them in a third-floor hallway.
Patricia Ward, a logistics-management specialist, said she was in the cafeteria getting breakfast.
“It was three gunshots straight in a row — pop, pop, pop. Three seconds later, it was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, so it was like about a total of seven gunshots, and we just started running,” Ward said.
Todd Brundidge, an executive assistant with Navy Sea Systems Command, said he and co-workers encountered a gunman in a long hallway on the third floor. The gunman was wearing all blue, he said.
“He just turned and started firing,” Brundidge said.
Terrie Durham, an executive assistant with the same agency, said the gunman fired toward her and Brundidge.
“He aimed high and missed,” she said. “He said nothing. As soon as I realized he was shooting, we just said, ‘Get out of the building.'”
As emergency vehicles and law enforcement officers flooded the streets, a helicopter hovered, nearby schools were locked down and airplanes at Reagan National Airport were grounded so they would not interfere with law-enforcement choppers.
Security was tightened at other federal buildings. Senate officials shut down their side of the Capitol. The House remained open.
In the confusion, police said around midday that they were searching for two accomplices who may have taken part in the attack — one carrying a handgun and wearing a tan Navy-style uniform and a beret, the other armed with a long gun and wearing an olive-green uniform. Police said it was unclear if the men were members of the military.
But as the day wore, police dropped one person and then the other as suspects. As tensions eased, Navy Yard employees were gradually released from the complex, and children were let out of their locked-down schools.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, was at the base at the time the shooting began but was moved unharmed to a nearby military installation.
Anxious relatives and friends of those who work at the complex waited to hear from loved ones.
Tech Sgt. David Reyes, who works at Andrews Air Force Base, said he was waiting to pick up his wife, Dina, who was under lockdown in a building next to where the shooting happened. She sent him a text message.
“They are under lockdown because they just don't know,” Reyes said. “They have to check every building in there, and they have to check every room and just, of course, a lot of rooms and a lot of buildings.”
Navy Yard shooting: What we know and don't know
by Ed Payne
The one question we all desperately want answered may have gone to the grave with Aaron Alexis: Why?
Why did he park at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, walk into Building 197, perch himself on an overlook above the atrium and open fire? The bullets that rained down killed 12 people and wounded eight others.
But that's not the only missing puzzle piece. Investigators are painstakingly trying to piece together the motive, the means and the method.
"No piece of information is too small," said Valerie Parlave of the FBI said Monday night. "We are looking to learn everything we can about his recent movements, his contacts and associates."
For now, here's what we know and what we don't know.
What we know: The shooting rampage ended with the 34-year-old Alexis' death.
What we don't know: How Alexis died. Authorities say he was killed after an encounter with security. We've yet to learn the details.
What we know: There were no indications that Alexis had any ideological differences with the Navy or any disagreements with anyone at the Navy Yard, a U.S. law enforcement official said.
What we don't know: Was it about pay? He was very frustrated with the company that contracted him to work for the Navy, according to a friend. Alexis claimed he wasn't paid properly by the company after returning from a months-long assignment to Japan last year, said Michael Ritrovato, a former roommate. It was unclear whether the dispute was over salary or expenses. Alexis just felt the company owed him money and had not paid him, Ritrovato said.
A SECOND MAN?
What we know: Throughout the day, authorities said they were looking for a second man. But by nightfall, they said they were "confident" that Alexis was the lone gunman. "We have exhausted all means to eliminate that possible last suspect," said Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier. "So we do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside of the base."
What we don't know: At the same news conference, just a few minutes before Lanier spoke, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray muddied the picture. "We continue to pursue the possibility of there being another shooter," he said. "We don't have any evidence, any indication at this stage that there was another shooter, even though we haven't completely ruled that out."
What we know: We know 12 people are dead -- 11 at the scene, one at a hospital. We know their ages ranged from 46 to 73. Authorities released the names of seven victims late Monday. Three others were shot, but survived. Five more were hospitalized for contusions and chest pains, the mayor said.
What we don't know: The names of the other five who died. We know that those killed were civilian workers or military contractors -- but we have yet to find out more about them. What they did at the Yard, where they were at the time of the shooting, etc.
What we know: He was an IT contractor. He had medium security clearance, high enough to work at multiple Navy offices over the summer. He had an ID badge to enter the Navy Yard. His employer says the shooter jumped through all the right hoops. "Alexis had a security clearance that was updated in July, approved by military security service personnel," said Thomas Hoshko, CEO at The Experts. "There is nothing that came up in all the searches."
What we don't know: But Alexis also had a "pattern of misconduct" and an arrest record. So, how did he get security clearance? Former Navy SEAL Cade Courtley says a poor or incomplete background check is to blame. "Most people when they get into that, they are given an interim clearance and that means that the background check hasn't been done but it's in the process of being done," Courtley said. "He may have started out with an interim clearance and a background check should have been done." The former SEAL says just running Alexis' fingerprints would have turned up his arrest record. In Seattle, he fired several shots into the tires of a car during an altercation over construction near where he lived in 2004. There was also a weapons incident in Texas in 2010.
SECURITY AT THE YARD
What we know: Alexis drove onto the grounds of Navy Yard Monday morning with three weapons in his vehicle. He took the weapons out, proceeded into Building 197 and opened fire. He had access to the Yard because of his contracting work, and he used a valid pass to gain entry.
What we don't know: Even to drive or walk onto the base, a person would be required to present credentials, said Navy Capt. Mark Vandroff. Building 197 has armed security at the door. How did he get the guns past them? Did cost cutting compromise Navy security? Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican and a member of Armed Forces Committee, thinks so. He wants a congressional briefing from the Pentagon inspector general on a Navy security audit that he says was released in the aftermath of Monday's shooting."It is my understanding that the IG report indicates the Navy may have implemented an unproven system in order to cut costs," Turner says. "I also learned that potentially numerous felons may have been able to gain restricted access to several military installations across the country due to insufficient background checks, increasing the risk to our military personnel and civilian employees."
What we know: The incident will certainly rev up the often explosive debate over gun control. But initial reports show Alexis obtained his primary weapon legally.
What we don't know: Will the shooting at Navy Yard change the political landscape? High-profile shootings over the last several years have done little to move the needle in Washington. President Obama pushed for universal background checks and other directives after the the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings, to cut down on the access Americans would have to firearms, but they never gained traction. At the state level, it's been a similar story. The successful recall elections last week of two Colorado lawmakers who backed new gun restrictions sent a shiver through the gun-control lobby.