A former Navy reservist killed at least 12 people on Monday in a mass shooting at a secure military facility that he entered by producing official credentials from his work as a military contractor, officials said. The shooting ended when he was killed by the police.
Parts of the nation's capital were put on lockdown in the day after the shooting on the edge of Capitol Hill as the police sought two other armed suspects spotted by videocameras. But by Monday evening, federal authorities said they believed the shooting was the act of a lone gunman.
At Washington's Navy Yard, the chaos started just after 8 a.m. Civilian employees described a scene of confusion as shots erupted through the hallways of the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, on the banks of the Anacostia River a few miles from the White House and about a half-mile from the Capitol.
"I heard three gunshots, pow, pow, pow, straight in a row," said Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist from Woodbridge, Va., who was in the cafeteria on the first floor when the shooting started. "About three seconds later, there were four more gunshots, and all of the people in the cafeteria were panicking, trying to figure out which way we were going to run out."
Police officers who swarmed the military facility exchanged fire with a gunman later identified by the federal authorities as Aaron Alexis, 34, a former naval reservist in Fort Worth, Texas. Police officers shot and killed Alexis, law enforcement officials said, but not before a dozen people were killed and several others, including a city police officer, were wounded.
Alexis was able to drive onto the base using his access as a contractor and shot an officer and one other person outside Building 197, officials said. Inside, Alexis made his way to a floor overlooking an atrium and took aim at the employees eating breakfast below.
The city police officer underwent several hours of surgery for gunshot wounds to his legs. A second victim suffered a gunshot wound to her shoulder. A bullet grazed a third victim's head but did not penetrate her skull, according to doctors at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
Three weapons were found on Alexis: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol, the New York Times reported, citing a senior law enforcement officer, who added that it was unclear whether he had brought the guns with him. Officials said they were still searching for a motive as they asked the public for help by posting pictures of Alexis on the FBI website. The FBI is treating the shooting as a criminal investigation, not one related to terrorism.
Navy officials said late Monday that Alexis had worked as a contractor in information technology. A spokesman for Hewlett-Packard said Alexis had been an employee of a company called The Experts, a subcontractor on an HP Enterprise Services contract.
Because of the lockdown at the Navy Yard, the officials said they were still unable to search databases to determine his current employment status.
Mayor Vincent Gray called it a "long, tragic day." President Barack Obama praised the victims of the shooting as patriots.
The tension in the city was heightened for much of the day as the city's police said they were still unsure whether Alexis had acted alone.
The reports of multiple suspects generated confusion across Washington as the authorities offered conflicting messages about any continuing danger.
Out of an "abundance of caution," Terrance W. Gainer, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, put the Senate complex into lockdown after 3 p.m. The Senate had recessed in the early afternoon.
Employees evacuated from the Navy Yard described a chaotic situation as an individual with a rifle roamed the hallways of Building 197, shooting at people.
Cmdr. Tim Jirus said he was on the fourth floor when he heard gunshots and saw people start running through the office. The commander said he was at the back of the building working to get people out when a man came out of a maintenance building and approached him, asking about the shooting. Moments later, the man, a civilian, was shot in the head, he said.
"We had a conversation for about a minute," Jirus said. "I heard two gunshots, and he went down, and then I ran back here."
Asked how he escaped when the man next to him was shot, he said: "Luck. Grace of God. Whatever you want to call it."