Aaron Alexis (Photo: FBI)
WASHINGTON - A shooting rampage at a U.S. Navy command complex in Washington left at least 13 people dead Monday, including a Navy veteran identified as the gunman, authorities said.
Aaron Alexis, 34, a civilian contractor from Fort Worth, was identified by officials as a shooter killed in a gun battle with police responding to the morning attack at the Washington Navy Yard. A military official said Alexis had been a Navy reservist on active duty before being discharged for misconduct.
The carnage and desperate efforts by responding officers to stop the shooting gripped the nation's capital city in a tense, day-long drama just blocks from the White House. Hours after reporting that Alexis was dead, city officials said they had not entirely ruled out the possibility another shooter was involved, though law enforcement officials said it seemed increasingly unlikely that others were involved.
At least three people suffered non-fatal wounds in the gunfire inside building 197 at the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, including a city police officer. Hospital officials said all three were expected to recover.
Hundreds of workers in the Navy complex were forced to hide in their offices or flee for safety while gunshots echoed from a gunman firing a high-powered weapon into the cafeteria and other parts of the building.
A mile or so away at the U.S. Capitol, the Senate temporarily locked down all its offices and buildings. The U.S. House was not in session and did not suspend office functions.
President Obama said he is mourning "yet another mass shooting" and vowed to ensure "whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible."
A federal law enforcement official said Monday that Alexis, who had been staying at Residence Inn in soutwest Washington since early September or late August, legally purchased at least some of the weapons used in the assault within the past few days in Virginia.
Alexis allegedly drove to the Navy Yard complex with the weapons early Monday and cleared security checkpoints before parking in a lot on the property, said the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly. After leaving his car, it is believed that Alexis was involved in two altercations in which he opened fire, killing one or possibly two people.
The official said Alexis allegedly then entered the building and proceeded to the third and fourth floors where much of the assault was carried out. He said Alexis did not appear to have an escape plan and it wasn't clear that he was targeting specific people.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said the shootings did not appear to be terrorism-related but said the possibility had not been ruled out.
The Washington Nationals baseball team, which plays its home games at a stadium close to the shooting scene, canceled its evening game. At nearby Washington Reagan National Airport, flights were disrupted and departures temporarily halted.
Helicopters filled the skies around the Navy complex on the Anacostia River in the Southeast quadrant of the city, an area that has seen a development revival in recent years. Some of the copters airlifted the injured away in baskets suspended beneath the aircraft.
Alexis was an online student at the Fort Worth campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing a bachelor's of science in aeronautics, the school said.
With the city on edge, the Secret Service arrested a man for tossing firecrackers over the White House fence late Monday. The Secret Service locked down the White House when the incident happened, fearing the pops could have been gunshots.
Gary Humes, a programs manager with the Navy, was entering the Navy Yard building where the shootings took place around 8:20 a.m. when he was met by people fleeing and warning of a shooter inside. He and more than 100 others ran to another building across the street, while others ran to the Navy museum nearby.
"I decided to go into work a little late this morning,'' he said. "I guess God was with me.""
Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said one shooter was killed in an exchange of gunfire with authorities and one police officer was wounded. Federal officials identified the dead shooter as Alexis.
Internal security at the Navy Yard building had already "identified and engaged the shooter" by the time the first D.C. police arrived, Lanier said.
She said police exchanged gunfire with the shooter "multiple times" before the final gun battle.
"It's one of the worst things we've seen in Washington, D.C.,'' Lanier said.
Lanier earlier said authorities had information indicating there could have been more shooters. One was later cleared, but police still were searching for a man wearing a military-style uniform and carrying a long gun, she said.
Lanier said the FBI was taking the lead in the investigation.
A federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY that Alexis was armed with an AR-15, which is a light-weight semi-automatic rifle, as well as a shotgun and a handgun. The federal official, who requested anonymity due to the fluid nature of the investigation, said there is no firm evidence that anyone else fired weapons in the attack.
The official said surveillance video of the shooting was being reviewed and scores of investigators were interviewing hundreds of witnesses.
Alexis may have gained entry into the Navy Yard by using someone else's identification card, said a federal law enforcement official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
Terrie Durham, an executive assistant at Naval Sea Systems Command, said a fire alarm sounded and she was trying to leave with a group of people when they encountered a shooter.
"We couldn't see his face, but we could see him with the rifle," Durham said. "He raised and aimed at us and fired. And he hit high on the wall."
Rick Mason, a program management analyst, said a gunman began shooting from a fourth-floor overlook in the hallway outside his office. He said the gunman was aiming down at people in the building's cafeteria on the first floor.
Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist, said she was in the cafeteria. "I heard three shots - pow, pow, pow. Thirty seconds later I heard four more shots."
Then panic, as people tried to get out of the cafeteria. "A lot of people were just panicking. There were no screams or anything because we were in shock."
Dave Sarr, an environmental engineer, was walking down a nearby street when he saw people running from the Navy Yard. Sarr has seen an evacuation drill a few days earlier at the Navy Yard. "At first I thought it was another drill," Sarr said. "Then I saw an officer with his weapon drawn."
Aaron Alexis had a history with guns
Richard Wolf, USA TODAY
The 34-year-old Navy reservist, the suspect in a shooting rampage at the Navy Yard that left 13 dead, including himself, was arrested in 2010 for firing a gun through the ceiling of his apartment in Fort Worth, according to a police report. He said it had been an accident.
Alexis enlisted in the Navy in 2007 and was an aviation electrician's mate 3rd Class in 2009. He served with the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron in Fort Worth from February 2008 to January 2011.
Alexis lived most recently in New York City, the Navy said, and had relatives in Georgia and Seattle, Wash., according to public reports. He last voted in Queens, N.Y., in 2000.
US Navy Releases Bio On Aaron Alexis
The Forth Worth Star-Telegram located a self-described "best friend" of Alexis on Monday who expressed surprise at the news and said Alexis had been working for a computer contractor.
"He lived with me three years," Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, owner of Happy Bowl Thai, told the newspaper. "I don't think he'd do this. He has a gun. but I don't think he's that stupid. He didn't seem aggressive to me."
A short LinkedIn profile of Alexis said he attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and worked as a network technician at SinglePoint Technologies.
Valerie Parlave, chief of the FBI's D.C. field division, appealed for the public's help to assist in providing information about the shooter's actions and movements prior to the attack. The FBI posted the alleged shooter's photographs on its website.
Contributing: Rick Jervis in Austin, Texas; and Kevin Johnson and Peter Eisler in Washington, D.C.