WASHINGTON // At least 12 people were shot dead yesterday when three gunmen in military clothing opened fire in an office complex in the heavily guarded Washington Navy Yard.
Police killed one of the gunmen and last night they were searching for the other two.
The 8.30am attack happened a short distance from the White House and the Capitol at a former shipyard that is one of the Navy’s oldest shore facilities.
Witnesses described a gunman opening fire from the fourth floor on people in the first-floor cafeteria. Others said a gunman fired at them in a third-floor hallway.
As emergency vehicles and police officers flooded streets around the complex, a helicopter hovered overhead, nearby schools were locked down and planes at nearby Reagan National Airport were briefly grounded so as not interfere with the helicopters. About three kilometres away, security heightened at the Capitol and other federal buildings.
Barack Obama mourned another mass shooting in the US that he said took the lives of American patriots. He promised to make sure “whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible”.
The building is the headquarters of Naval Sea Systems Command, which buys, builds and maintains ships, submarines and combat systems. About 3,000 people work there, many of them civilians.
Todd Brundidge, an executive assistant with NSSC, described how he and colleagues encountered a gunman dressed all in blue in a long hallway on the third floor. “He just turned and started firing,” Mr Brundidge said.
Terrie Durham, also an executive assistant said: “He aimed high and missed. He said nothing.”
“As soon as I realised he was shooting, we just said, ‘Get out of the building’.”
Rick Mason, a civilian programme-management analyst for the Navy, said a gunman shot rom the hallway outside his office.
Shortly after the gunfire, Mr Mason said, someone on an overhead speaker told workers to seek shelter and later to head for the gates at the complex.
Patricia Ward, a logistics-management specialist who had been having breakfast in the cafeteria, said: “It was three gunshots straight in a row – pop, pop, pop. Three seconds later, it was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, so it was like about a total of seven gunshots, and we just started running.”
Ms Ward said security officers started directing people out of the building with guns drawn.
One person died at George Washington University Hospital of a single gunshot wound to the left temple, said Dr Babak Sarani, director of trauma and acute care surgery. A police officer and two civilian women were in critical condition at Washington Hospital Centre, said Janis Orlowski, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
Ms Orlowski said the police officer was in the operating theatre with gunshot wounds to the legs. One woman had a gunshot wound to the shoulder. The other had gunshot wounds to the head and hand.
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. Only security personnel are allowed to be armed on the campus.
The Navy Yard has three gate. One is open around the clock and must be used by visitors. A second gate is only for military and civilian defence department employees. The other gate is for bus traffic.
The Yard is part of a fast-growing neighborhood on the banks of the Anacostia River in southeast Washington, just blocks from the Nationals Park baseball stadium.
* Reporting by the Associated Press