At least 13 people including a gunman have been killed and a police officer wounded in a mass shooting at the US Navy Yard in Washington, DC, just three kilometres from the Capitol building, and police are hunting for one other possible suspect.
Authorities have not said if they believe the attack was an act of terrorism, or even that they are certain about the reports of multiple gunmen, but a massive police operation including “active shooter units” of the DC Metropolitan Police and the ATF as well as officers of the FBI, the US Park Police, the NCIS and Homeland Security is ongoing.
The dead gunman at the scene has been identified as 34-year-old civilian contractor Aaron Alexis, originally from Fort Worth, Texas.
He was identified by photographic ID found on his body.
He is believed to have a criminal record there and to be a holder of a concealed carry weapon permit.
Alexis is believed to have gotten into the Navy Yard by using someone else’s identification card.
It is not yet clear if that individual was an accomplice or if that person’s ID card was stolen.
According to Navy officials, Alexis enlisted in the Navy in 2007 and left the service in 2011.
He served in the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (46) at the Naval Air Station in Fort Worth.
The first reports of an incident came through just after 8.15am, when the DC Metropolitan Police received calls saying there was a gunman shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, home to both the Chief of Naval Operations and the Navy Systems Command, the administrative group in charge of designing and building US warships and their naval weapons systems.
The dead gunman has been identified as 34-year-old civilian contractor Aaron Alexis.
As fire alarms sounded the 3000 civilian and military employees were ordered to “shelter in place” and according the Metropolitan Police Chief, Cathy Lanier, the department’s first active shooter response team was on site within seven minutes.
One witness reported hearing three shots fired rapidly followed by another four shots, leading to speculation that a semi-automatic firearm was in use.
Commander Tim Jirus told reporters of how he was standing talking with a man when he was shot in the head and fell to the ground, apparently dead. Commander Jirus had just helped evacuate staff from his building and was waiting at a mustering point when the man came out of a nearby maintenance building to ask him what was going on when he was shot in the head.
“He just came up and was like, ‘Hey I understand you have a shooter in your building’,” Commander Jirus said.
“And then I heard two more gunshots and it hit the guy next to me and not me.”
As the man fell, Commander Jirus fled.
Rick Mason, a civilian program management analyst said a gunman was shooting from a fourth floor overlook in the hallway outside his office, reported America’s ABC. He said the gunman was aiming down at people in the building's cafeteria on the first floor.
Mason said that after the shooting loudspeakers instructed people, who had already been told find shelter, to find exits to the complex.
Terri Durham, an executive assistance with Navy Systems Command, told CNN about how she ran into a hallway with a small group only to see a man with a rifle at the far end. He then fired at them, hitting the wall above them as they fled.
“He aimed high and missed,” she said. “He said nothing. As soon as I realised he was shooting, we just said, ‘Get out of the building.’
“We’re lucky he was far enough away [and] he was a bad shot,” she said.
Dewey Carpenter, a Navy employee who worked in building 210, directly across from building 197 where shooting broke out, told the Washington Post how he and fellow staff heard a garbled loudspeaker announcement instructing employees in numerous adjoining buildings to “take shelter”, and a later email echoed those instructions to stay put in their offices and away from windows.
“The mood is solemn, concerned,” he said. “Some people are really scared…. Everyone in here knows somebody next door.”
Obama speaks out
At lunchtime at the White House, just over 5 kilometres for the scene of the attack President Barack Obama prefaced a scheduled speech marking the fifth anniversary of the economic crisis with comments about the shootings.
“I've been briefed by my team on the situation. We still don't know all the facts, but we do know that several people have been shot and some have been killed. So we're looking at yet another mass shooting,” he said.
“And today it happened on a military installation in our nation's capitol. It's a shooting that targeted military and civilian personnel.
“These are men and women who were going to work, doing their jobs, protecting all of us. They're patriots, and they know the dangers of serving abroad, but today they face the unimaginable violence that they wouldn't have expected here are home.”
Throughout the morning rumours circulated about the number of people injured and killed and there was confusion about the number of gunmen. At press conferences just after midday by Mayor Vincent Gray and Chief Lanier, it was confirmed that one gunman had been killed, but that police were looking for two other men seen in the area wearing what appeared to be military-style uniforms.
Security was increased at many of DC’s other sensitive sites, including the Capitol building and the Pentagon.
Shooter arrested before
The Dallas Morning News reported that Alexis was arrested in Fort Worth in Texas on September 5, 2010, for discharging a gun in the Fort Worth city limits.
He is believed to have fired a gun through the ceiling of his apartment into his upstairs neighbour’s apartment, according to NBC5.
His neighbour called the police after the bullet came through her floor and hit the ceiling.
The neighbour told police at the time that she was “terrified” of Alexis, who had previously confronted her about making too much noise, according to The Smoking Gun.
The woman, who was “visibly shaken up”, told police that she believed the shooting was “intentional.”
Alexis claimed at the time that he was cleaning the weapon when it discharged, according to The Smoking Gun. He told police that his hands were slippery as he “began to take the gun apart when his hands slipped and pulled the trigger discharging a round into the ceiling’’.
But Melody McDonald, spokesperson for the Tarrant County District Attorney, told the Dallas Morning News that Alexis was never charged with a crime in Tarrant County and he was released from Fort Worth city jail the same day he was arrested.
"We have to find out what kind of case it was, who it went to. But he never had a pending case in this office," she told the newspaper.
“He has never been charged with a crime in Tarrant County, at least not as an adult.”
Additional reporting by The Washington Post and wires