The daily reveille had just finished, and latecomers were rushing to their offices. That’s when the first shot rang out, which to some sounded like a locker being slammed shut.
Then some more. They were clearly gunshots. There was a shooter in Building 197 of the Washington Navy Yard, a US military base that houses many naval offices. By the time an all-clear was sounded, around 1:00 pm, 13 people were dead, including the gunman, a Navy reservist identified as Aaron Alexis, 34.
The shooter had a history of mental illness, which was known to the Veterans Administration. But he was not declared mentally unfit, which would have ended his security clearance.
Alexis was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal during his stint in the reserves. Both are issued to large numbers of service members who have served abroad and in the US since the 9/11 attacks.
Raised in New York, Alexis had converted to Buddhism, and was learning Thai. He worked occasionally at a Thai restaurant run by a friend in Texas.
A former Fort Worth roommate, who described Alexis as his ‘best friend’, said he was shocked by the news.
“I don’t think he’d do this,” Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, owner of Happy Bowl Thai restaurant, where Alexis had worked. At the time of the shooting, Alexis was the employ of The Experts, a company providing tech support.
His family said Alexis had anger management issues. And he shot the tyres of a car in 2010 in Seattle because he thought its occupants had mocked him.
This was the fiercest attack on a US military base after the Fort Hood shooting of 2009 by Nidal Hasan, who was sentenced to death. US Navy captain Mark Vandroff was taking a meeting in a conference room in building 197 when the shooting began. He and others locked themselves in.
“After the gunfire, the police got us a little after 10 (am),” he said. The police escorted them out to a safe building. Vandroff then proceeded to make sure everyone working for him was safe. Alicia Brooks, a US navy logistician, stopped to share her story. “They are my shipmates and I am concerned about them,” she said.