At least 10 people have been shot — with multiple fatalities — at a Navy building in Washington by a gunman who was then killed but may not have acted alone, authorities said.
Shots were fired just after 8 a.m. at the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters in southeast Washington, and in the ensuing hours there were conflicting reports on the number of victims and the number of gunmen, although a federal law enforcement official told Fox News that one shooter has died. Police said as many as two additional gunmen may still be at large, and thousands of workers who report to the building were being told to “shelter in place” until officials could safely evacuate them.
Many who managed to escape in the early minutes of the episode told of panic and fear after a shooter — described as a tall, African-American man with an AR-15 — opened fire.
“They sounded like ‘pop, pop, pop,'” said Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist who was in the cafeteria. “Everybody just panicked at first … It was just people running, running, running.
“I just kept running,” Ward said. “Our mission is to take care of the Navy … After today, it’s not secure enough for me.”
The Associated Press reported six fatalities and police sources earlier told The Washington Post that as many as three shooters, including one in military fatigues, were involved in the incident.
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the first call came in just after 8:15 a.m., and that officers were on the scene within seven minutes. She said one member of her department was shot after engaging with a shooter, who she said was killed. But she said there are “potentially two other shooters” who remain at large. One was described as a white male, last seen at 8:35 a.m. with handgun and wearing a short-sleeve khaki shirt and a beret-style hat that may have been military-issued.
Hours after police responded, authorities continued to search for suspects, and low-flying helicopters were spotted circling above the scene, dropping baskets to evacuate people from the complex.
Rick Mason, a program management analyst who is a civilian with the U.S. Navy, said a gunman was shooting from a fourth floor overlook in the hallway outside his office. Mason said the gunman was aiming down at people in the building’s cafeteria on the first floor, adding that he could hear the shots but could not see a gunman.
Shortly after the gunfire, Mason said overhead speakers told workers to seek shelter and later to head for the gates at the complex.
People who were inside the building said a gunman wordlessly sprayed fire from an AR-15 assault rifle as terrified civilians and Navy members scattered.
“We saw him hold the rifle, and we saw him aim it in our direction,” a witness told FoxNews.com.
Another witness told WJLA: “We were looking, but he was down the hall far enough that we couldn’t see a face. But we saw him hold the rifle and then we saw him raise it and aim in our direction.”
Naval Sea Systems Command is the largest of the Navy’s five system commands and accounts for a quarter of the Navy’s entire budget. It builds, buys and maintains the Navy’s ships and submarines and their combat systems.
Out of an abundance of caution, U.S. Capitol Police will conduct enhanced security operations on the Capitol Complex, although no known threat exists. Up to eight nearby schools were also reportedly locked down as a precautionary measure.
White House officials, in a statement released shortly after the shooting, confirmed that President Obama had been briefed on the incident.
“The President directed his team to stay in touch with our federal partners, including the Navy and FBI, as well as the local officials,” the statement read. “We urge citizens to listen to the authorities and follow directions from the first responders on site.”
Obama later promised to make sure those responsible for the “cowardly act” are held accountable.
More than 20 members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) responded to the scene, including the same Special Response Team that extracted the alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the boat where he barricaded himself following the April 15 attack.