WASHINGTON (AP) — A defense-industry employee used his pass to get into the Washington Navy Yard and went on a deadly shooting rampage Monday, spraying bullets in the hallways and firing from a balcony on workers in an atrium below. Thirteen people were killed, including the gunman.
President Barack Obama lamented "yet another mass shooting" in the U.S. that he said took the lives of American "patriots" and promised to make sure "whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible." Despite a string of mass shootings, Obama has been powerless to get gun control legislation passed amid a fierce backlash from conservative politicians and the gun owners lobby.
The attack as the deadliest shooting at a U.S.-based military installation since Maj. Nidal Hissan, an Army psychiatrist, killed 13 people and wounded 30 others in 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas. He was convicted last month and sentenced to death.
The motive for the attack was a mystery, investigators said. Mayor Vincent Gray said there was no indication it was a terrorist attack, but he added that the possibility had not been ruled out.
"This is a horrific tragedy," he said.
The attack at a single building at the highly secured Navy Yard unfolded about 8:20 a.m. in the heart of the U.S. capital, less than four miles from the White House and two miles from the Capitol.
It put all of Washington on edge and raised the specter of another well-coordinated terrorist strike — or another attack from within, like Fort Hood.
The gunman, Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old information technology employee and former Navy reservist whose last known address was in Fort Worth, Texas, died after a running gunbattle inside the building with police, investigators said.
He carried three weapons: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun that he took from a police officer at the scene, according to two federal law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
For much of the day, authorities said they were looking for a possible second attacker who may have been disguised in an olive-drab military-style uniform.
But by late Monday night, they said they were convinced the attack was the work of a lone gunman, and the security lockdown around the area was eased.
"We do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside the base today," Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
The FBI took charge of the investigation.
In addition to those killed, eight people were hurt — three of them shot and wounded, according to the mayor. Those three were a police officer and two female civilians, authorities said. They were all expected to survive.
The dead ranged in age from 46 to 73, according to the mayor. A number of the victims were civilian employees and contractors, rather than active-duty military personnel, the police chief said.
At the time of the rampage, Alexis was an information technology employee with The Experts, a company that was a Defense Department subcontractor on a Navy-Marine Corps computer project, authorities said.
Valerie Parlave, head of the FBI's field office in Washington, said Alexis had legitimate access to the base as a defense contractor and used a valid pass.
Alexis had been a full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to early 2011, leaving as a petty officer third class, the Navy said. It did not say why he left. He had been an aviation electrician's mate with a unit in Fort Worth.
A convert to Buddhism who grew up in New York City, Alexis had had run-ins with the law over shooting incidents in 2004 and 2010 in Fort Worth and Seattle and was portrayed in police reports as seething with anger.
Witnesses on Monday described a gunman opening fire from a fourth-floor overlook, aiming down on people on the main floor, which includes a glass-walled cafeteria. Others said a gunman fired at them in a third-floor hallway.
Patricia Ward, a logistics-management specialist, said she was in the cafeteria getting breakfast.