WASHINGTON (NBC News) -- A man brandishing an assault rifle, shotgun and handgun opened fire Monday inside a building at the Washington Navy Yard. The city police chief said 12 people were killed.
SWAT officers swarmed the building, the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command, and a shooter there was killed, sources told NBC News.
Chief Cathy Lanier said there could be as many as two other suspects at large, one white and one black, both seen with firearms and wearing military-style uniforms. But reports conflicted in the chaotic hours after the rampage, and there was no confirmation of more than one person firing shots.
It was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December, and the worst at a military installation since 13 people were killed at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.
The number of injured was not clear.
President Barack Obama called it a “cowardly act.” He said the rampage targeted patriots, military and civilian alike, “men and women who were going to work, doing their job, protecting all of us.”
Terrie Durham, who works at the Naval Sea Systems Command building, said she saw a gunman who appeared to be wearing dark fatigues. Another worker there, Todd Brundidge, said he heard a fire alarm go off, and later saw the gunman come around the corner.
“He turned our way and started firing, and we ran downstairs to get out of the building,” Brundidge said. “No words. He raised the gun and started firing.”
Law enforcement officials said the gunman may have gotten into the building using someone else’s identification.
A naval security guard was among those shot and was hit in both legs, U.S. military officials said. Washington city police told WRC, the NBC affiliate in Washington, that one of their officers was also among those shot. It was not clear how many of the others shot were civilian and how many were military.
Patricia Ward, who works at the Navy Yard, said she had just gotten breakfast in the cafeteria when she heard “three gunshots, pow-pow-pow, straight in a row.”
“All of the people that were in the cafeteria, we all panicked, and we were trying to decide which way we were going to run out,” she said. “I just ran.”
Tim Hogan, a spokesman for Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada, posted photos to his Twitter account of people tending to at least one person down on a street corner.
Chaos enveloped the surrounding neighborhood for hours. Flights were briefly grounded at Reagan National Airport, and nearby schools and the headquarters of the Department of Transportation were locked down. Farther away, police stepped up security on the Capitol grounds.
Washington police issued lookouts for two people they described as suspects — a 50-year-old black man with a rifle, wearing a drab olive military uniform, and a white man with a pistol, wearing a short-sleeved, khaki uniform and a beret.
Dr. Janis Orlowski, the chief medical officer at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said that the hospital was treating three gunshot victims — a woman hit in the head and hand, a woman hit in the shoulder and a man hit in the legs.
She said that the victims came in alert and talking.
“They’re talking about gunshots that they heard in rapid succession,” she said.
George Washington University Hospital said it had one patient.
Obama, speaking at an event marking the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis, turned to the shooting and said: “We are confronting yet another mass shooting, and today it happened on a military installation in our nation’s capital.”
“It’s a shooting that targeted our military and civilian personnel,” he said. “These are men and women who were going to work, doing their job, protecting all of us. They’re patriots. And they know the dangers of serving abroad, but today they faced the unimaginable violence that they wouldn’t have expected here at home.”
The Navy said on its Twitter feed that three shots were fired at 8:20 a.m. ET at the Sea Systems Command headquarters. About 3,000 people work there, the Navy said. They were ordered to stay in place. WRC video showed a medical helicopter lifting someone off a roof.
“This is a huge piece of land with several building so it’s going to take some time for us to get through it and search it so we can make sure it’s safe,” Peter Newsham, assistant chief of the Washington police, told reporters.
Obama was getting regular briefings.
The Naval Sea Systems Command builds, buys and maintains ships and submarines and their combat systems. The Navy Yard is along the Anacostia River in Washington, near the Washington Nationals baseball stadium.
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