WASHINGTON – Standing at an ATM in the first-floor atrium of the building where she works at the Washington Navy Yard, Patricia Ward was startled by a rapid succession of sharp noises that seemed to come from overhead.
Bam, bam, bam
It was about 8:15 a.m. Monday in Building 197, a brick edifice that houses employees of the Naval Sea Systems Command.
Was that a gunshot? one of Wards companions wondered aloud.
They were on their way to have breakfast in the cafeteria nearby.
More loud cracks came almost instantly.
We knew it then, Ward said. We just started running.
So began a morning of tragedy and terror, a mass shooting that killed a dozen victims and injured 14 others at the historic facility. A 34-year-old Texas man apparently armed with high-powered guns allegedly opened fire, leaving a trail of bodies before he died, too, either from police bullets or his own hand, authorities said.
His motive remains a mystery, and the precise sequence of events has yet to become clear. But for those who survived, who saw or heard what happened from narrow vantage points – crouched under a desk, standing flat against a wall, prostrate on the floor beneath a table – the memory is indelible.
At 8 a.m., reveille crackled over loudspeakers at the Navy Yard as two sailors hoisted an American flag up a pole, marking the official start of the workweek.
Tim Birkenbuel, a Navy contractor, was in his second-floor office when he heard what sounded like a table falling on concrete.
He heard the same sound again, and again – what turned out to be several gunshots in rapid succession. Some of his co-workers ran to the glass panels that surround the buildings atrium to see what was going on. Birkenbuel then barricaded them in the office for safety. And they waited.
Mark Vandroff, a retired Navy captain, had arrived by Metro from his home in Bethesda, Md., at 5:50 a.m. He had already worked out in the Navy Yards gym, showered, read through his emails and was on the third floor, preparing for a meeting about the planned purchase of Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers.
The first sound that I heard, that I now think was gunfire was a loud sound shortly after 8, Vandroff recalled. It sounded unusual, and we all looked at each other around the table, like, What the heck was that? And then, the second sound – that was definitely gunfire. That was the unmistakable sound of gunfire. And it was very, very loud.
After that, people started screaming: Close the doors! Close the doors!
Vandroff and eight others in the third-floor conference room stood up. Someone shut the door, but it didnt have a lock. They decided to barricade. They flipped the conference table on its side. They wedged it under the door handle and packed chairs behind it. Then they got down on the floor. Rick Mason, a program management analyst, told the Associated Press that a gunman was shooting from a fourth-floor overlook in the hallway outside his office. He said the shooter aimed at people in the first-floor cafeteria.
Navy Cmdr. Tim Jirus said that as he was leaving the building, he saw a co-worker who had been shot getting into a police car, and he heard more shots from inside his workplace.
Jirus went to an alley where he thought he would be safe and spoke briefly with a man there about what was going on. Jirus said he heard two gunshots, loudly echoing off the building. He spun toward the sound. When he turned back, the man he had been talking with was lying on the ground, shot in the head.
Uncertain where the shooter was, Jirus ran.
I was just lucky, he said. The other person was shorter than me. There were two shots. He got that guy. He didnt get me.
The randomness of it – standing right next to me, one person gets shot.
The first call to D.C. police came about 8:15 a.m., and Chief of Police Cathy Lanier said officers arrived at the Navy Yard within literally two to three minutes.
Quickly, District police were joined by U.S. Marshals, U.S. Capitol Police and U.S. Park Police, who entered the building and, talking on one radio frequency, began moving floor to floor, helping victims and securing rooms.
At 8:28 a.m., an email went out to Navy Yard workers: ALL HANDS on WNY Shelter in place. Twenty minutes later, another email: All Commands on WNY report accountability of your personnel.
Then, at 9:15 a.m.: Shelter in Place and or a Lockdown is security posture taken to protect personnel. Stay indoors, if outside, get within a building. Stay away from widows or open buildings, Remain indoors until the all clear is given. Secure doors and windows. And a half-hour after that: ALL PERSONNEL ON WASHINGTON NAVY YARD CONTINUE SHELTER IN PLACE. REMAIN CLEAR OF ALL WINDOWS.
Lanier said officers eventually encountered the gunman.
There was a gunfight with the suspect, she said. And the suspect was eventually deceased.