A 34-year-old Navy veteran from Texas was identified by the FBI as the suspected gunman in shootings at the Washington Navy Yard that left at least 12 others dead.
Aaron Alexis, who was a full-time Navy reservist from May 2007 to January 2011, was shot and killed by police at the scene. He was last assigned to a logistics support squadron in Fort Worth, Texas, according to the Navy, and last held the rank of specialty aviation electrician’s mate third class.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said authorities are continuing to search for a second potential shooter, a middle-aged man who was dressed in military-style clothing. Authorities have yet to identify what prompted the shooting.
“We don’t know what the motive is,” Gray told reporters. “We don’t have any reason at this stage to suspect terrorism, but certainly it has not been ruled out.”
The shooting at the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, about a mile from the U.S. Capitol, shuttered streets near the Navy Yard and prompted lockdowns through the day of nearby schools and in the buildings of the U.S. Senate. The identities of the victims have yet to be released.
The Navy Yard shooting, reported at around 8:15 a.m., was the deadliest mass killing since the shooting of 20 pupils and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, in December. Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 wounded in a November 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas. Army Major Nidal Hasan was sentenced to death last month in that case.
FBI Seeks Information
The Federal Bureau of Investigation requested that anyone with knowledge of Alexis’s actions before today’s shooting contact them. Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the scene inside the building “was one of the worst things we’ve seen in Washington, D.C.”
“There’s no question” the suspected killer “would have kept shooting” if he hadn’t been killed, Lanier said.
Alexis, who was born in New York City, enlisted in the Navy in 2007 and served in recruit training and logistics in Illinois and Texas, according to the Navy.
Fort Worth police arrested Alexis on Sept. 4, 2010, on a charge of discharging a firearm after an upstairs neighbor reported to police that a bullet came through her floor from the apartment below, where Alexis lived.
The neighbor said Alexis had called the police several times complaining she was being loud, and that several days earlier, Alexis had confronted her in the parking lot for making too much noise.
Alexis told police he did have a gun and was cleaning it when it went off, according to police records. There is no record immediately available of how local authorities disposed of the case.
“He said that he was trying to clean his gun while cooking and that his hands were slippery,” the police report states. “He told me that he began to take the gun apart when his hands slipped and pulled the trigger discharging a round into the ceiling”
Today’s shooting shut down streets around the Navy Yard throughout the day and employees remained indoors as police looked for suspects who may have conspired with Alexis in the attack.
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 with another man, whom he didn’t know, when he heard what sounded like gun shots. He saw the man shot in the head.
“To hear the gun shots and realize you were that close makes me a little unnerved,” Jirus, who works for Naval Sea Systems Command, 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 stories 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.
Shortly after 3 p.m., the U.S. Senate initiated a lockdown for the following two hours as a precaution.
The Washington Nationals baseball team, whose stadium is several blocks from the Navy Yard, postponed its scheduled game tonight against the Atlanta Braves. The game will be played as part of a day-night doubleheader tomorrow, Major League Baseball said in a statement.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, a spokesman for the Navy, said the buildings at the yard remain 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,” 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.
One police officer was among the three treated at the hospital for wounds to the leg, while two women were shot in the shoulder, head and hand, Janis Orlowski, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
President Barack Obama was briefed several times this morning about the Navy Yard shooting by his homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, according to a White House official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible,” 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,” Obama said.
The Washington Navy Yard, located along the Anacostia River, was created in 1799 and is the oldest military installation in the U.S., according to the U.S. Navy. It is home to several Navy offices and commands, including the Navy Museum. The Naval Sea Systems Command oversees the service’s $30 billion annual budget for developing ships, submarines and their combat systems.