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WASHINGTON — A civilian contractor and military veteran with a valid base entry pass went on a shooting rampage at a U.S. Navy command complex building Monday, killing 12 people before being shot dead himself, authorities said.
Aaron Alexis, 34, a contractor from Fort Worth, was identified by officials as the shooter who was killed in a gunbattle with police responding to the morning attack at the Washington Navy Yard. A military official said Alexis had been a Navy reservist on active duty before being discharged for misconduct.
The FBI said late Monday that Alexis had a valid pass and security clearance to enter the Navy Yard as a civilian contractor. Valerie Parlave, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, said the shooter had "legitimate access to the Navy Yard.''
The carnage and desperate efforts to stop the shooting gripped the nation's capital in a tense, day-long drama just blocks from the Capitol. Hours after reporting that Alexis was dead, city officials said they had not entirely ruled out the possibility another shooter was involved, but law enforcement officials said Monday night they were confident there was only one gunman. Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said there is currently no known motive for the shootings.
At least three people, including a city police officer, suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds inside building 197 at the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters. Hospital officials said all three were expected to recover. Authorities said another five people suffered minor non-gun injuries.
Hundreds of workers in the Navy complex were forced to hide in their offices or flee for safety while gunshots echoed from a gunman firing a high-powered semi-automatic weapon into the cafeteria and other parts of the building.
A mile or so away at the Capitol, the Senate temporarily locked down all its offices and buildings. The House of Representatives was not in session and did not suspend office functions.
President Obama said he is mourning "yet another mass shooting" and ordered flags at government buildings to be flown at half-staff.
"This is a horrific tragedy,'' Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said.
A federal law enforcement official said Monday that Alexis, who had been staying at a nearby Residence Inn since late August or early September, legally purchased at least some of the weapons used in the assault within the past few days in Virginia.
Alexis allegedly drove to the Navy Yard complex with the weapons early Monday and cleared security checkpoints before parking in a lot on the property, said the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly. After leaving his car, it is believed that Alexis was involved in two altercations in which he opened fire, killing one or possibly two people.
The official said Alexis then entered the building and went to the third and fourth floors, where much of the assault was carried out. He said Alexis did not appear to have an escape plan and it wasn't clear whether he was targeting specific people.
Gray said the shootings did not appear to be terrorism-related but said the possibility had not been ruled out.
He said all the victims were civilians and were 46 to 73 years of age.
Police released the names of seven of the 12 killed: They were Michael Arnold, 59; Sylvia Frasier, 53; Kathy Gaarde, 62; John Roger Johnson, 73; Frank Kohler, 50; Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46; and Vishnu Pandit, 61. No hometowns were listed.
Lanier late Monday night lifted a shelter-in-place order for the area around the shooting site and said she was confident "we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside the base today.''
The Washington Nationals baseball team, which plays home games at a stadium close to the shooting scene, canceled the evening game. At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, departures were halted briefly.
Helicopters filled the skies around the Navy complex on the Anacostia River in the Southeast quadrant of the city, an area that has seen a development revival in recent years. Some of the copters airlifted the injured away in baskets suspended beneath the aircraft.
Alexis was an online student at the Fort Worth campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing a bachelor's of science in aeronautics, the school said.
With the city on edge, the Secret Service arrested a man for tossing firecrackers over the White House fence late Monday. The Secret Service locked down the White House when the incident happened, fearing the pops could have been gunshots.
Gary Humes, a programs manager with the Navy, was entering the building where the shootings took place around 8:20 a.m. when he was met by people fleeing and warning of a shooter inside. He and more than 100 others ran to a building across the street, while others ran to the Navy museum nearby.
"I decided to go in to work a little late this morning,'' he said. "I guess God was with me."
Lanier said one shooter was killed in an exchange of gunfire with authorities and one police officer was wounded. Federal officials identified the dead shooter as Alexis. Gray said the officer was hospitalized and doing well Monday evening.
Internal security at the Navy Yard building had already "identified and engaged the shooter" by the time the first D.C. police arrived, Lanier said.
She said police exchanged gunfire with the shooter "multiple times" before the final gun battle.
"It's one of the worst things we've seen in Washington, D.C.,'' Lanier said.
A federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY that Alexis was armed with an AR-15, which is a light-weight semi-automatic rifle, as well as a shotgun and a handgun. The federal official, who requested anonymity because of the fluid nature of the investigation, said there is no firm evidence that anyone else fired weapons in the attack.
The official said surveillance video of the shooting was being reviewed and scores of investigators were interviewing hundreds of witnesses.
Alexis may have gained entry into the Navy Yard by using someone else's identification card, said a federal law enforcement official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
Terrie Durham, an executive assistant at Naval Sea Systems Command, said a fire alarm sounded and she was trying to leave with a group of people when they encountered a shooter.
"We couldn't see his face, but we could see him with the rifle," Durham said. "He raised and aimed at us and fired. And he hit high on the wall."
Rick Mason, a program management analyst, said a gunman began shooting from a fourth-floor overlook in the hallway outside his office. He said the gunman was aiming down at people in the building's cafeteria on the first floor.
Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist, said she was in the cafeteria. "I heard three shots — pow, pow, pow. Thirty seconds later I heard four more shots."
Then panic, as people tried to get out of the cafeteria. "A lot of people were just panicking. There were no screams or anything because we were in shock."
Dave Sarr, an environmental engineer, was walking down a nearby street when he saw people running from the Navy Yard. Sarr had seen an evacuation drill a few days earlier at the Navy Yard. "At first I thought it was another drill," Sarr said. "Then I saw an officer with his weapon drawn."
At MedStar Washington Hospital Center, chief medical officer Janis Orlowski said the hospital was treating three victims — a male D.C. police officer and two women.
She said the police officer had multiple gunshot wounds to his legs and was in surgery. One woman was shot in the shoulder, and the other in the head and hand. All are expected to survive, she said.