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U.S. First confusion, then chaos inside Building 197

9/16/13 12:18:10 PM -- Washington, DC -- Helicopter with sharpshooter on board scanning the area at Navy Yard shooting Washington, DC on Monday, September 16, 2013. -- Photo by Jack Gruber, USA TODAY Staff ORG XMIT: JG Navy Yard Shootig 9/16/2013 [Via MerlinFTP Drop] Navy Yard Shooting (Photo: Jack Gruber USAT)WASHINGTON — Far from the crowds of tourists at the Lincoln Memorial and the busy operatives on Capitol Hill, hundreds of workers headed to their jobs at the Navy Yard on an overcast Monday morning.
Wedged along the Anacostia River and obscured by walls and fences, the yard's drab, numbered office buildings and hulking garages were filled with the men and women who quietly do the work of engineering, designing and maintaining the country's warships and submarines.
At about 8:15 a.m., the ordinary atmosphere was shattered.
"I heard 'pow, pow, pow.' Then for a few seconds it stopped. And then 'pow, pow, pow,' " Patricia Ward said. "I just started running."
When the shooting was over a short time later, 13 people were dead and several others shot, but alive. In a city where police, uniformed military and X-ray machines are everywhere in the wake of Sept. 11, it was still a shock to many that a mass-murderer struck in the nation's capital.
"It's one of the worst things we've seen in Washington, D.C.,'' Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
The Navy Yard is almost as old as the United States. Bought in 1799, it was made into the nation's largest shipbuilding port by the country's first secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert. The ironclad ship the USS Monitor was repaired there; as was the USS Constitution. John Wilkes Booth crossed its bridge to escape to Maryland after assassinating President Lincoln.
The yard eventually lost its prominence as a shipyard because of the shallowness of the Anacostia, which divides the district from Maryland, and became a center for the design and maintenance of the U.S. Navy's fleet and weapons.
On Monday it became a scene of chaos.
Bryan Lynn Chaney, employed at the Navy Yard through the Wounded Warrior Project, which assists injured vets, was on the second floor of Building 197 when he heard a noise.
"I was coming in the main entrance and as I was going up to my office area I heard what I thought was a locker falling to the ground or slamming a door," Chaney said.
"After that maybe 10 or 15 seconds I heard another couple of bursts, which I didn't think was gunshots, but you can't really tell if you weren't expecting to hear that kind of sound," he said.
Chaney said people started looking out of their office doors to see what was happening. "It was confusion. We just knew there was something going on that was unexpected," he said.
What no one could know was that a killer, believed to be a former petty officer 3rd class from Texas who likely walked into work just like everyone else, was firing bullets at everyone he saw.
Retired Navy commander Kirk Lippold, who led the USS Cole, spoke with two former shipmates who were on the third floor of Building 197 at the time of the shooting.
He said the building is a wide-open space ringed with offices around a central atrium. The building supports are industrial steel beams and his shipmates told him the bullets that hit the beams echoed so loudly it was difficult to determine where they were being fired from.
Terrie Durham and her colleagues were just settling into their desks when they heard distinctive "pops" growing increasingly louder and closer. She ran into a darkened hallway on the third floor and saw a man wearing fatigues and holding a long gun.
"He was far enough down the hall that we couldn't see his face," Durham told ABC News affiliate WJLA-TV. "But we could see him with the rifle, and he raised and aimed at us and he fired."
Durham told the station that he missed, hitting "high on the wall" above their heads.
Almost immediately, hundreds of law enforcement and emergency personnel in a city always on guard against large-scale attacks filled the streets around the Yard. Onlookers said it appeared as though the entire law enforcement community descended on the neighborhood, with dozens of cruisers with blaring lights and large black panel vans full of expert snipers racing into the neighborhood.
"Everything they had, Secret Service, federal police, everyone came speeding down the street," said James Killingsworth, a mason who was working on rebuilding an historic wall outside the Navy Yard. "I've never seen so many police in my life."
As television news programs showed helicopters hovering over the yard, initial reports rattled viewers who were told that there was first one shooter, then two, then perhaps three, suggesting a possible coordinated terrorist attack on the city.
Chief Lanier came out at midday to say that a broad collection of law enforcement agencies — her officers, FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, Navy officials — were still looking for two suspects who may have been involved.
"The investigation is still very active," Lanier said. "We have a large area that we are still actively searching."
Six public schools in and around Capitol Hill were put on lockdown. Reagan National Airport, several miles away, grounded flights in the first few hours of the attack in apparent fear that the shooting was a terrorist attack and that more may be on the way.
In the neighborhoods just outside the Navy Yard officials conducted a security sweep of nearby Nationals Park, a glittering and lively addition to a section of the city that was usually desolate after dark. Apartment buildings barred visitors and closed down garages as police combed the alleys and stores in search of possible accomplices in the shooting.
Ralph Rider was installing windows on a new building nearby when he and 200 other construction workers were directed into the basement.
"They wanted to make sure they got us out of the line of fire," he said.
Back inside the building, a fire alarm prompted people to stream out of the building.
Bud Sterling, a contractor at the Navy Yard, said he could see people streaming from Building 197 to take shelter in Building 201, where he worked.
Gary Humes, a program manager at Naval Sea Systems Command, was walking into the building when people started running out, saying there was a shooter inside and scrambling for cover.
"I decided to go into work a little late this morning," Humes said. "I guess God was with me."
Omar Grant, a civilian who works in network support, said he was working on the first floor of Building 197 when he heard the shots. "It was unmistakable," he said.
Grant and his colleagues heard the fire alarm and started scrambling for the door. Grant escorted a blind colleague from the building as colleagues rushed out, leaving cellphones and other personal belongings behind.
Others weren't so lucky.
Navy Cmdr. Tim Juris was escaping with several others to an alley behind the building when he started talking with another military officers about what was happening.
"I looked down, and the guy next to me (who) was standing talking to me, was down in front of me on the ground," Juris, who doubted the man could've survived the gunshot wound to the head, told WJLA-TV.
Employees who work in other parts of the Navy Yard were told to stay put and lock their doors.
At the Naval Facilities Engineering Command next door to Building 197, employees were told to stay in their offices until about 10:30 a.m. They were then moved to the lowest level of the parking garage for about two hours.
"People were calm," one employee said. "People understood it was an unusual situation and acted like adults."
Around 12:30 p.m., they were moved to a food court area where no food was served. They remained there until they were finally allowed to leave at 3:30 p.m.
They emerged to find a Navy Yard engulfed with blinking emergency lights, but as quiet as it usually is.
Contributing: Alan Gomez, The Associated Press

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