Naval command centre scene of mass shooting
Navy orders senior staff to account for all personnel assigned to commands
Law enforcement officers respond to the scene of a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington. Photograph: Reuters
At least 13 people were dead after a shooting yesterday at the US Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters in Washington, the deadliest mass shooting in the US since last December’s rampage at a Connecticut elementary school.
A suspected gunman was killed at the scene of the shooting yesterday morning, Washington metropolitan police department chief Cathy Lanier said. He was identified as Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old former Navy reservist from Fort Worth, Texas. The Navy said he was a petty officer 3rd class in a fleet logistics support unit. Officials believe Alexis had a criminal record in Texas and may have gotten into the Navy Yard by using someone else’s identification card
Authorities spent much of the day searching for two other potential suspects, before deciding that at least one of the two men was “not a suspect or person of interest”, according to a police statement released on Twitter.
The shooting, at about 8.15am about a mile from the US Capitol, closed streets near the Navy Yard and prompted lockdowns throughout the day of nearby schools.
Helicopters circled overhead, and residents were advised to stay away from the area.
At least four other people were wounded, including a police officer who was in critical condition.
The Navy Yard violence was the deadliest mass killing since the shooting of 20 pupils and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, last December.
Last month, army major Nidal Hassan was sentenced to death for a November 2009 shooting incident that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 at Fort Hood, Texas.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible,” US president Barack Obama said before a speech on the fifth anniversary of Wall Street’s financial crisis.
“We are going to be investigating thoroughly what happened – as we do so many of these shootings, sadly, that have happened – and do everything that we can to try to prevent them.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is taking the lead on the investigation, Ms Lanier said.
One of those injured by a gunman was a Washington police officer who responded to the incident.
No information about the shooter, including a possible motive, has been released.
Navy commander Tim Jirus said he was in his fourth-floor office when the fire alarm went off and he fled to an alley outside. He stopped to speak to another man, whom he did not know, when he heard what sounded like gun shots. He saw the man shot in the head.
“To hear the gun shots and realise you were that close makes me a little unnerved,” Mr Jirus told reporters outside the Navy Yard. “It makes me like life a lot today. I’m going to hug my kids the next time I see them.”
Patricia Ward, a logistics manager at the Navy Yard, said she was in a cafeteria when she heard at least seven gunshots – three followed by a pause and then four more – from upper storeys of the building. She fled along with others, when she saw a security guard with a gun drawn who advised them to run.
“The ones that were in the cafeteria with us, we all just looked at each other,” she said.
“At first they said let’s just stay here in the cafeteria. I said no, I’m getting out. So everybody just started running out the side door.”
Streets around the Navy Yard, in southeast Washington, remained closed. Police cars, tactical vehicles and emergency responders raced along M Street Southeast with sirens blaring.
Rear Adm John Kirby, a spokesman for the navy, said the buildings at the yard remained locked down.
As a result of the incident, the navy has ordered commanders to account for all personnel assigned to commands in the Washington area.
“This is an active search scene,” Adm Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. “This isn’t over for law enforcement or for our people over there.”
Three of the wounded were taken to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where they were in critical condition. Janis Orlowski, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said the victims were awake, but so far unable to discuss the incident.
The police officer, who was among the three treated at the hospital, suffered wounds to the leg, while two women were shot in the shoulder, head and hand. “Obviously, they’re in pain and distressed,” Ms Orlowski said. The incident briefly grounded flights out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. – (Bloomberg)