A gunman suspected in the killing of 12 people at a Navy building in Washington Monday morning has been identified as Aaron Alexis, 34, a Navy veteran from New York who once shot a bullet through the apartment of a neighbor, Fox News has learned.
Alexis, who was discharged from the Navy two years ago after serving hitches in Texas and Illinois, sprayed bullets from the fourth floor down to the cafeteria area in the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters in southeast Washington in an attack that began just after 8 a.m. Alexis, who may have used a stolen ID to get into the building, died later as he traded shots with responding police, though it was not clear if he killed himself or was brought down by cops.
Many who managed to escape in the early minutes of the episode recalled panic and fear after a routine Monday morning was shattered with fire from an AR-15 and a handgun.
“This is not over.”
– Rear Admiral John Kirby, U.S. Navy chief spokesman
“They sounded like ‘pop, pop, pop,'” said Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist who was in the cafeteria. “Everybody just panicked at first … It was just people running, running, running.
“I just kept running,” Ward said. “Our mission is to take care of the Navy … After today, it’s not secure enough for me.”
Other witnesses told similar stories of gunshots and chaos.
“A little after 8, we heard a loud noise and didn’t think anything of it,” U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Vandroff told Fox News. “Someone with the presence of mind, and if I find out who it is, I’m going to thank them for it, closed our office doors.
“We got down on the floor as low as we could and barricaded ourselves in with tables and chairs,” he added. Vandroff said he frantically texted co-workers to check on them until police led them out of the office around 10 a.m.
Police were initially operating under the theory that Alexis had two cohorts, although one person being sought was later found and cleared. They were still seeking another man for questioning in the shooting, although Mayor Vincent Gray later said authorities were not sure if there was another suspect.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon, helicopters circled above the sprawling complex. People still trapped inside the building, where some 3,000 work every day, were told to “shelter in place,” as helicopters dropped baskets to pick up the wounded.
Alexis, 34, of New York, was a Navy aviation electrician’s mate, third class, who spent time in Texas and Illinois before leaving the Navy in early 2011. While stationed in Fort Worth, he was arrested on Sept. 4, 2010, after an upstairs neighbor reported that he had fired shots up into her apartment.The neighbor said Alexis had often angrily confronted her about making too much noise, and she told police he scared her.
“[The neighbor] told me that she is terrified of Aaron and feels that this was done intentionally,” the arresting officer wrote on the police report.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the first call came in just after 8:15 a.m., and that officers were on the scene within minutes. She said one member of her department was shot after engaging with a shooter, who she said was killed. Lanier initially said there were “potentially two other shooters” at large, although one white male who was being sought was later cleared.
The incident paralyzed much of the city, with several schools going on lockdown. The Washington Nationals, who play near the scene, postponed their night baseball game.
Gray said investigators had not identified a motive for the shooting. There was no indication that the incident was an act of terrorism, he said. The FBI was asking the public to provide any information that might help them learn more about Alexis’s possible motive by calling (800) CALL-FBI or by clicking here.
Rick Mason, a program management analyst who is a civilian with the U.S. Navy, said a gunman was shooting from a fourth floor overlook in the hallway outside his office. Mason said the gunman was aiming down at people in the building’s cafeteria on the first floor, adding that he could hear the shots but could not see a gunman.
Shortly after the gunfire, Mason said overhead speakers told workers to seek shelter and later to head for the gates at the complex.
People who were inside the building said a gunman wordlessly sprayed bullets as terrified civilians and Navy members scattered.
“We saw him hold the rifle, and we saw him aim it in our direction,” a witness told FoxNews.com.
Another witness told WJLA: “We were looking, but he was down the hall far enough that we couldn’t see a face. But we saw him hold the rifle and then we saw him raise it and aim in our direction.”
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said two Navy employees and one Metro DC officer were brought to Medstar Washington Hospital Center, not with injuries considered life threatening.
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.
White House officials, in a statement released shortly after the shooting, confirmed that President Obama had been briefed on the incident.
“The President directed his team to stay in touch with our federal partners, including the Navy and FBI, as well as the local officials,” the statement read. “We urge citizens to listen to the authorities and follow directions from the first responders on site.”
Obama later promised to make sure those responsible for the “cowardly act” are held accountable.
More than 20 members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) responded to the scene, including the same Special Response Team that extracted the alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the boat where he barricaded himself following the April 15 attack.
Although the motive was not yet known, the shooting brought to mind another mass shooting at a military base, on Nov. 5, 2009. That shooting, carried out by Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, an American-born Muslim who became a jihadist while in the military, left 13 dead and more than 30 injured. Hasan was convicted of multiple counts of murder on Au.23 and sentenced to death by a military judge five days later.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.