By Eric Tucker, Brett Zongker and Lolita C. Baldor
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A defense contractor went on a shooting rampage Monday inside a building at the heavily secured Washington Navy Yard, spraying bullets in the hallways and firing from a balcony onto workers in an atrium below. Thirteen people were killed, including the gunman.
Police said the gunman, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis of Texas, used a valid pass to get onto the base before launching the attack, which unfolded about 8:20 a.m. in the heart of the nation’s capital, less than four miles from the White House and two miles from the Capitol.
Alexis died after a running gunbattle inside the building with police, investigators said.
“This is a horrific tragedy,” Mayor Vincent Gray said.
Investigators said the motive was a mystery. The mayor said there was no indication it was a terrorist attack, but he added that the possibility had not been ruled out.
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.
It was the deadliest shooting at a military installation in the U.S. since Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 in 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas. He was convicted last month and sentenced to death.
President Barack Obama lamented yet another mass shooting in the U.S. that he said took the lives of American “patriots.” He promised to make sure “whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible.”
The FBI took charge of the investigation.
At the time of the rampage, Alexis was an information technology employee with a company that was a Defense Department subcontractor, authorities said. Valerie Parlave, head of the FBI’s field office in Washington, said he had access to the base as a defense contractor.
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.
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, Texas.
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.
“It was three gunshots straight in a row — pop, pop, pop. Three seconds later, it was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, so it was like about a total of seven gunshots, and we just started running,” Ward said.