and whom I know for a fact works exactly where he says he does, doing exactly what he says he does.
It already wasn’t like just another day at work. My immediate boss and I had been in the day before (a Sunday) to work on a high-priority project. I’d love to tell you more about that, but I can’t. What we had done was going to cause a giant rush on our Help Desk on Monday morning, and I had told him I would come in extra early to start working the ticket overload. While we were there on Sunday, the network connection to our cubicles went out and was still out by the time I left. That in itself was not noteworthy because NMCI is the most gawdawful network I have may have ever had the misfortune to be a user of. What was noteworthy that it was out in just our compartment, the rest of the building had a normal connection. That was going to prove to be a real game-changer.
I got in a little after seven to find that the network to my 1st floor cubicle in the server room lockup was still out. Our Gov’t Supervisor was very jumpy because there were hundreds of help desk tickets and we were unable to service them, or to tweak the system if needed, without some network transit. He said there were two cubicles upstairs on the 4th floor where folks were on leave or telecommuting that Boss and I could use. By then we were all across the hall in the Server Ops room where they had network, as someone had said one of our systems were out and Boss and I were checking it, It was fine, so Gov’t super said we needed to come upstairs with him ASAP to see if we could Help Desk from up there. Boss said he was still doing stuff, and he would be up in a minute. I wasn’t sitting at a terminal, so easily I couldn’t say no, I had to go with him.
We went through the atrium by the cafeteria to the elevators and up to the 4th floor. We walked by Mary Knight’s office and said good morning to her. I think she was packing her stuff because she had just gotten a promotion and a new office.
GS took me to a very manky cubicle in the IA section. IA is the cat to our System Administrator dog. They are the ones who enforce the Byzantine security that we put our systems through. The cube was filthy and I complained. I felt like a fussy little diva as told him I would have to go downstairs to use my own desk phone, this one was too filthy. I held up the crusty mouse pad and asked him if he really expected me to use it. He said he’d be right back, and brought me a brand new clean one from the stack over by the CIO’s office.
My GS is a very pleasant man and I was quite mollified by his kind gestures. I logged in and settled down. As the computer was logging in, I had plenty of time to look around the cubicle. Dude was a fellow football fan, so I decided to Google him up and see if I recognized his face. He had a rubber ducky collection on a shelf, which made me smile.
That was just about when the fun started. It was 8:15 am on Monday September 16th, 2013 and I was sitting in the IT mgmt. pod near the atrium on the 4th floor of bldg 197 at the Washington Navy Yard in sunny Washington DC.
I heard a very loud BOOM from not far off to my right. I thought someone had dropped a pallet full of equipment in the atrium as it echoed throughout the building. I shrugged it off because 197 is gigantic and all sorts of things go on there all the time.
A few seconds passed and I heard another loud BOOM, this time much closer from the same direction. I stopped mousing and noted to myself that that sounded like 12 gauge shotgun and on the same deck as I was. As I sat there pondering that, there was a barrage of what was unmistakably (to me) 12ga shotgun fire. My redneck background and my military training all aligned at once to tell me I had me a Live Shooter in the pod!
I wondered if this was a Live Shooter drill or not as I quickly turned off all the lights in the cubicle and slid under the desk, pulling the chair in behind me, and aligning my body both for minimum Line-of-Sight from the aisle, and with as much of my body in the shadowed portions of the underdesk as I could. It was filthy and I didn’t care.
As I silently completed a quick trio of Our Fathers (I’m Catholic), I heard some people very nearby discussing it pensively, but not alarmedly. I could hear every word they said very clearly. That was surreal. They were speculating calmly about what could be causing the noise.
Then the barrage hit. There were another 6 or 8 shots in close succession, and much closer to my position. I could hear the unmistakable sound of him racking the gun as he reloaded it.
That was when the screaming started.
There were both men and women screaming. It went on until another 2 or 3 more barrages silenced it. Each barrage was closer and closer to my position.
I heard a dog barking in the eerie silence. I could smell the cordite.
I heard more shotgun racking sounds. He was reloading.
I unplugged all the equipment I could reach under the desk. The rest of the row of cubicles was empty, thank God, I wanted nothing to indicate that anyone had been sitting there moments before. Something beeped when I unplugged it all and I froze and listened until I thought it was ok to continue. I rechecked my position under the desk to make sure my profile was minimized.
That was when I saw him. He walked right down my row. I only saw his back. He was wearing a navy blue t-shirt and walking slowly and steadily, so at first I couldn’t tell if he was a good guy or a bad guy. He disappeared from my view towards the railing over the atrium at the end of the row of cubicles.
He was tall and skinny, black and bald. He was wearing a navy blue t-shirt and navy blue cargo pants with the pockets bulging with shells. His arms were in front of him, not at his sides.
I was pretty sure that he was my Live Shooter. I also knew for a fact that he would have to come back down the row to leave the area. There was no other way out of the row. He was coming back.
I braced myself to launch out of my hole if he saw me. Then I also curled myself as far up into that nook as I could.
He re-appeared. He was walking slowly, holding a stripped down shotgun. The stocks had been removed and/or cut down. The barrel was just two silver metal tubes held together with metal clips. It had a matte finish. He was right-handed, so the muzzle was pointing away from me, to his left. He looked to me to be about 40. His face was rictused, tight. His jaw muscles were balled up and his face looked like it was chiseled from granite. He looked very pissed off. His eyes were red.
He walked right by me, chin up, eyes straight ahead, with a grim and determined air. He never looked my way. He wasn’t looking from side to side, not searching. The rest of the row was empty so there was nothing to give him any pause. I was wearing earth colored clothes, my shirt was dark green with brown plaid in it, I had chocolate colored pants and shoes. I really think it all helped to camouflage me. If I was wearing bright colors I think that would have been all she wrote. Sometimes I do, but I had ridden my motorcycle to work that day, so I had gone to the back of the closet for an outfit. It’s still there.
About 5 seconds after he passed me, I heard 2 more shots about 10 ft behind me. More racking sounds. That it when I began to think I was going to make it out of this. I was in his wake and I knew it.
I waited a little longer and sure enough, I heard 3 more shots, but this time they were moving away from me, for the first time since it started. I heard more shots and further away, then fire alarm went off.
This made me smile, as I knew that the incredibly loud and shrill alarm would help cover any sounds I made while making my egress.
I moved the chair slowly aside and snuck out and checked the aisle. It was clear, except for a cloud of cordite smoke. I quietly low-ran to the end of the row and crouched, looking towards the direction the shooter had gone. 5 feet in front of me was my friend Mary Knight, lying on the floor. She wasn’t moving. She looked totally relaxed. I was a Medic in the Marine Corps and instinctively knew what that meant. There were more bodies down the hall. No one was moving, so after a quick 360 look-n-listen, I kept moving. Now I could taste the cordite a little in my mouth.
There were more shots and I used them to navigate, angling away from the sounds. I tried to stay behind him. There was more screaming,more shots. I ran low and quiet, in a direction that I had not yet heard any shooting. Right then I could not be sure if there was more than one shooter. I had heard enough shots to account for multiple insurgents. It felt like a concerted Al-Qaeda attack, like Benghazi must have felt. Hopeless. The cavalry wasn’t coming.
I made it to the rear companionway that runs the length of the building, along the back, away from the main stairwells and elevators. As I was low running down the hall as fast and as quietly as I could, the women’s bathroom door popped open and a small middle-aged Asian woman poked her head out. I slowed down a bit. She said, “What is going on?”. As I went by I whispered, “there’s a shooter”. I kept moving. That was all I said to her. I didn’t want to take her with me. She didn’t look very stealthy. I hoped she believed me and I hoped she would go hide and hide well. I didn’t want to live with the fact that something happened to her because I had told her to come with me while I was moving around. I wasn’t sure I yet that I was going to make it out.
I ran past the first set of secondary stairs. It wasn’t far enough. There are stairwells in our building that are in tiny breezeways that are rarely used and I knew that. I kept moving. I heard more gunshots, more screaming, but fainter now.
I went to the secondary stairwell that was furthest from the hot zone, on the northwest corner on the back of the building. I knew the only way to find those stairwells is that is where the network printers are, and I counted on the insurgents not to know it. The gunfire continued in the distance.
I found the alcove I wanted. I quietly opened the door to the stairs and sussed it. There was no one there. I went inside and shut the door behind me quietly. I paused and thought about going back and trying to subdue him, but realized that I had a golden opportunity to take him from behind when he was in my row and I hadn’t taken it, plus if there were more than one of them I was pretty much screwed, so I kept going.
I heard one person below me in the stairwell. They were running down so I tracked them, keeping two loops of stairwell between them and me until I heard the outside door get blasted open hard.
I continued down and blasted out of that stairwell door like Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, ready to engage the bad guys or run. I reckon that’s what they mean by ‘fight or flight’. There was no one in front of me. It was a perfect September day, sunny and cool. I was thrilled to note that I was not winded. I am 50 and I smoke, and I didn’t know yet how far I had to run.
I was in an alley between 197 and the tall, old brick wall along the west edge of the base. There were other refugees moving south along the wall and I joined them, trying to blend in in case anyone was still trying to kill me.
We got to the southwest corner of the wall, and there were lines of people waiting to climb over the boxes and crates and dumpsters to go over the wall. I saw a much more difficult way with a much shorter line, I went over to it. I think I must have cut in line. I wasn’t sure if I cared. A woman rolled up to me and she gave me a real funny look when I backed up and said, “Ladies first, ma’am”. Next thing I knew, I was over that wall lickety split, off-base and on my way to freedom.
I was in Yards Park, in a pleasant little bit of riverside gentrification next to the National’s baseball stadium.
I went over and leaned far over the the railing and inspected the Anacostia River below. It was green and murky. I made sure that I had a further egress if the bad guys kept coming. I knew that the water would slow down a shotgun slug fairly rapidly, if I could only swim down far enough. I hoped it was deep enough. I was going feet-first to protect my head if there were rocks. I saw some other people giving me funny looks but I didn’t care. I was going to jump in and swim all the way to Virginia, where I’m from, if I had to and keep right on going.
I looked over and saw the young woman I let go ahead of me over the wall. She was skedaddling towards the Metro for all she was worth. It made me smile.
The people were shellshocked, disorganized, yet almost all on their cellphones. The GSes starting trying to organize everyone to go back on base and muster. I had no CAC card. It was still in the computer upstairs. I think it still is, as I write this a week later. Without it I couldn’t get back on base so I decided to keep going. Besides, my phone was there. We are not allowed to have personal cell phones at work, so I leave it at home. I wanted to call my loved ones and tell them all I was ok before they saw the news and freaked out.
I sat down on a park bench and had a smoke and thought about what to do next. I smoked it in like 3 minutes. I heard sirens 2 blocks over on M St, headed east towards the base. Lots of them.
I live nearby so I continue my egress to my apartment. There were lots of sirens. From the look on people’s faces on the street, I think I must have looked like I had seen a ghost.
The concierge looked pretty grim as I briefed him. I went upstairs and turned on the TV. It said there were multiple shooters. I looked out the window, and the cops had formed a perimeter on M St. by the baseball stadium. I was right outside of it.
I was able to communicate my status to my loved ones before 9 am. None of them knew yet that something had happened. My estranged girlfriend texted me “If you feel you need to get out of the city, please come here”. I thought that sounded pretty darned good. It is a rural location and my horses were there so I knew I could get real hard to find from there if I needed to, so I started packing my gear.
I was there by lunchtime and watching it all unfold on TV.
The FBI said I might have gotten the closest to him of any of the ‘unscathed’ survivors (about 3 ft), but there was no way to be certain of that yet. They tracked me down that night (it’s what they do) and debriefed me for about 2 hours after midnight.
I had to tell them how to find me, I was gone so far to ground it would have taken them days to find me, if ever.
I was ready to keep going on my horse if need be. He would literally take me anywhere in North America that I asked him to. He is a good boy. I can sleep in the saddle so we wouldn’t have to stop much.
The FBI said I could stop running so I reluctantly hunkered down for the night. They said that so far the data indicated that he wasn’t after any of us in particular. They were much cooler than I expected. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to let them find me, but they said there were still people locked down on the base that night and they needed me to try and help them determine how many shooters there were so they could let folks go home.
I had drank most of a pot of coffee after midnight so I would be sharp for them during the debrief, so it took a while to settle down, as you might imagine.
I slept that night cradling my rifle like a teddy bear.