Essential personnel returned to the Navy Yard Tuesday, a day after a lone gunman shot his way into the building and then proceeded to pick off victims, killing 12, before he was shot by authorities.
Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old man who went on the rampage, shot his way into the building where he first killed a base police officer, grabbed his handgun, then proceeded to kill 11 more people Monday morning.
Alexis, a Navy reservist who was working at the Yard as a civilian contractor with “The Experts,” a subcontractor of HP, was authorized to drive onto the premises because he had a “common access card,” officials told NBC News. His work as an IT contractor with access to classified materials also granted Alexis an additional level of security clearance, authorities said.
Alexis was killed in a shootout with police at the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters. Authorities believe that he has purchased the shotgun that he brought with him at Sharpshooters, a Lorton, Va., gun dealer about 20 miles from Washington. When he was killed, authorities recovered the shotgun, a handgun, and an AR-15-style assault rifle they believed he picked up in the course of the shooting.
A complex portrait of Alexis, who had been living in Ft. Worth, Texas, began to emerge Tuesday with Naval officials saying that he had a history of psychological problems and had been disciplined for insubordination and disorderly conduct during his time in the service between May 2007 and January 2011.
The suspect’s father said that Alexis, a native of Flushing, Queens, suffered from PTSD from having been an “active participant” in rescue attempts after 9/11. Alexis had previous run-ins with authorities, including for gun offenses, in Texas, Seattle, and Georgia.
Authorities initially said they were looking for two other suspects or persons of interest, but as the day wore on, D.C. police said they were certain Alexis acted alone.
“We do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside the base today,” said Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
The victims range in age from 46- to 73-years-old, said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Authorities identified John Roger Johnson, 73, Kathy Gaarde, 62, Vishnu Pandit, 61, Michael Arnold, 59, Sylvia Frasier, 53, Frank Kohler, 50, and Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46, as seven of the victims.
“Today, my life partner of 42 years (38 of them married) was taken from me, my grown son and daughter, and friends,” Kathy Gaarde’s husband, Douglass Gaarde, wrote to the Associated Press Tuesday. ““We were just starting to plan our retirement activities and now none of that matters. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet but I know I already dearly miss her.”
Eight people were injured in the attack—three of those were injured from gunshot wounds, including one law enforcement official. The other five have injuries ranging from extreme stress to various contusions; all eight are expected to make recoveries.
“The response of the police, the taking down of the shooter so quickly, convinces me yet again that this is the safest city in the United States—not safe from attack, but safe,” Washington D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton said at the press conference. Norton promised that “when I go on the floor tomorrow evening, I’ll remind the Congress that this shooting occurred in their neighborhood.”
The attack began on a drizzly Monday morning just before 8:30 a.m. as some of the Navy Yard’s 3,000 workers filed into their offices for the start of the work week.
“It was three gunshots straight in a row: pow, pow, pow,” said Patricia Ward, who heard the gunfire from the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters. “Three seconds later, it was pow, pow, pow, so it was like about a total of seven gunshots and we just started running.”
Commander Tim Jirus said that he heard what sounded like the pop of a gun around 8:30 in the morning. As part of the Safety Section tasked with safely evacuating employees in the building, Jirus got people to safety.
“There was an individual who came from the building behind us,” Jirus said. “He came up behind us and was talking to me basically saying, ‘hey, there’s a shooter in your building,’ and then I heard two more shots. One of them hit him, he went down in front of me and then I took off from there.”
Streets around the Navy Yard reopened Tuesday morning after an initial lockdown yesterday.
President Obama called the civilian and military employees of the Navy Yard, “patriots,” and called the attack, “unimaginable.”
“We are confronting yet another mass shooting,” Obama said. “And today it happened on a military installation in our nation’s capital.”
Obama had pushed for stricter gun control legislation following the mass murders in an Aurora movie theater and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. But a bipartisan bill requiring universal background checks and restricting the size of gun magazines died on the floor.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story said that Aaron Alexis was a contractor with HP. He was a contractor with “The Experts,” a subcontractor of HP.
NBC News’ Pete Williams, Jim Miklaszewski, Courtney Kaube contributed reporting to this article. MSNBC’s Michele Richinick also contributed to this report.