WASHINGTON // A gunman opened fire at a security checkpoint into the Pentagon on Thursday in a point-blank attack that wounded two police officers. The two officers suffered grazing wounds and were being treated in a hospital, said Richard Keevill, chief of Pentagon police. Law enforcement officials identified the shooter as John Patrick Bedell, 36, of California. He died hours after being admitted to a hospital in critical condition, authorities said.
Officials are also speaking with a second man, who might have accompanied the shooter, and were running his name through databases. There were signs that Bedell may have harboured resentment for the military and had doubts about the facts behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In an internet posting, a user by the name JPatrickBedell wrote that he was "determined to see that justice is served" in the death of Marine Col James Sabow, who was found dead in the back yard of his California home in 1991. The death was ruled a suicide but the case has long been the source of theories of a cover-up.
The shooter walked up to the checkpoint at the Pentagon's subway entrance in an apparent attempt to get inside the massively fortified Defense Department headquarters. "He just reached in his pocket, pulled out a gun and started shooting" no more than 1.5 metres away, Mr Keevill said. "He walked up very cool. He had no real emotion on his face." Mr Keevill said the gunman gave no clue to the officers at the checkpoint about what he was going to do.
"There was no distress," he said. "When he reached into his pocket, they assumed he was going to get a pass and he came up with a gun. "He wasn't pretending to be anyone. He was wearing a coat and walked up and just started shooting. "We have layers of security and it worked. He never got inside the building to hurt anyone." The Pentagon officers returned fire with semi-automatic weapons. Mr Bedell's death was confirmed today by Beverly Fields, the chief of staff at the DC medical examiner's office and Leigh Fields, a medical legal investigator for the office.
The subway station is immediately adjacent to the Pentagon building. Since a redesign following the 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, riders can no longer disembark directly into the building. They have to take a long escalator ride to the surface from the underground station, and then pass through a security check outside the doors of the building, where further security awaits. The assault at the very threshold of the Pentagon - the US capital's ground zero on September 11, 2001 - came four months after a deadly attack on the Army's Fort Hood, Texas, post.
In the immediate aftermath on Thursday, investigators did not think terrorism was involved but were not ruling that out and did not discuss possible motives. California Voter Registration records show that Mr Bedell was born on May 20, 1973, and lived in Hollister at his parents' home. Ronald Domingues, 74, lives next door to Mr Bedell's parents in a gated golf course community in Hollister. He said Mr Bedell lived with his parents on and off, but he had not seen him recently. Mr Bedell occasionally helped his parents with yard work and came across "like a normal young man."
A Pentagon official working late in the building said people inside first heard of the shooting on television. They were later told the building was locked down and to stay in place. Then at around 7.30pm local time, they heard an announcement on the public address system that they could leave. * AP