Pensacola, Florida shooting: Gunman was a military pilot from Saudi Arabia training in the U.S., official says

Published on Friday, 6 December 2019 17:03
Written by T.S. Strickland, Brittany Shammas, Alex Horton, Kim Bellware

The Washington Post

PENSACOLA, Fla. - A Saudi Arabian military pilot training in the United States opened fire Friday morning at Naval Air Station Pensacola, leaving three people dead and several others wounded before Florida sheriff’s deputies shot and killed him. It was the second deadly shooting at a U.S. naval base this week.

Federal and state officials confirmed that the gunman was participating in aviation training, although they would not disclose details on his status with the Saudi military.

President Trump said on Twitter that Saudi King Salman had called him “to express his sincere condolences and give his sympathies.”

“The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people,” Trump tweeted.

Authorities would not release the name of the shooter and have said little else about the shooting, or their investigation into the deadly attack.

It was unclear whether the three deceased victims were service members or civilians, said Lt. Cmdr. Megan Isaac, a Navy spokeswoman. Multiple people were taken to area hospitals, including two Escambia County sheriff’s deputies who are expected to survive.

“I can tell you lives were saved because of the response of people both in uniform with the Navy and in uniform with Escambia County Sheriff’s Office,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said. “In one of the darkest days, I think, in the base’s history, you still saw some of that bravery and grit come out.”

Reports of an active shooting inside an air station classroom came in at 6:51 a.m., drawing a major law enforcement response in the Florida Panhandle city. The base was placed on lockdown, the Navy said, with its gates secured. After about an hour, the sheriff’s office announced that the shooter was dead.

The incident shook a community whose identity is deeply entwined with the base, with many residents either employed there or tied to the industry that sprawls alongside Pensacola Bay. The number of personnel assigned there is almost half the population of the city itself.

As the military facility’s gates remained closed into Friday afternoon, authorities stressed that they are in the beginning stages of their investigation. They said they could release only limited information.

NAS Commanding Officer Capt. Timothy F. Kinsella declined to specify which classroom had been targeted, saying he did not want to cause alarm to families of air station employees who were still in the process of being notified.

Baptist Health Care said it had admitted eight patients from the shooting but could not yet report on their conditions.

“Our teams are treating patients and we are working with Navy personnel to communicate with family members,” the hospital said in a statement.

Naval Air Station Pensacola, which hosts 16,000 military personnel and more than 7,000 civilians, is known as the “cradle of Naval aviation.” It’s home to the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron and is the first stop for training to become Naval pilots or flight officers. The air station schoolhouse also trains pilots from partner militaries around the world.

Base security and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are investigating, the Navy said in a statement, adding that victims’ names “will not be released until the next of kin have been notified.”

DeSantis said the state’s emergency management agency had deployed an official to coordinate mental health resources for those impacted by the shooting. He said he had talked to President Trump about the need for the Saudi Arabian government to help victims, adding that “they’re going to owe a debt here.”

“I think there’s obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national being a part of the Saudi air force and then to be here training on our soil,” he said.

In Pensacola, officials called Friday a tragic day for the community, underscoring the close relationship between the city and the air station.

“For 200 years, they have been a part of the city of Pensacola. We’re a military town,” Mayor Grover C. Robinson said during the news conference. “Our hearts and prayers are connected to all those who serve us every day. Certainly the expectation that this would happen here at home was unexpected.”

Jana Lormer, who is renovating her grandmother’s home directly across the bayou from the base, comes from a long line of service members - like many in the neighborhood. She said the area’s usual sense of quiet had been shattered.

“I woke up and opened my texts to all of these messages and then looked across the water to see all the ambulances on the bridge,” she said. “It was too close for comfort.”

That sense of shock was echoed by Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, himself a former service member.

“You just don’t expect this to happen at home,” he said. “This doesn’t happen in Escambia County. This doesn’t happen in Pensacola. This doesn’t happen to our friends and neighbors who are members of the United States Navy. But it did. And it has. And so for now, we’re here to pick up the pieces.”

The shooting in Florida came just two days after a gunman opened fire at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam near Honolulu, killing two and injuring a third before shooting and killing himself.

The shooter in that incident was identified as an active-duty U.S. Navy sailor and his three victims as civilian Defense Department employees working on the base’s shipyard.

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Strickland is a freelance journalist based in Florida. Shammas, Horton and Bellware reported from Washington.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Nation-World on Friday, 6 December 2019 17:03. Updated: Friday, 6 December 2019 17:05.