WASHINGTON—Many District dwellers get off at the Navy Yard metro stop to catch a Nationals game at the baseball stadium or go to work at one of the several federal buildings, where thousands are employed by the Department of Defense and affiliated contractors.
On Monday morning, they were greeted by caution tape, hundreds of police cars and other emergency vehicles lining M Street leading up to the Washington Navy Yard and helicopters circling the sky. A deadly shooting rampage at the Naval Sea Systems Command had left 13 people dead, including the shooter. Nearby schools and the Senate were on lockdown. The Senate delayed votes until later in the week in light of the day's events, as law enforcement continued to search for two other possible shooters. Authorities now think that one shooter, suspect Aaron Alexis, acted alone.
"We've not had a day like this since 9/11," said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who arrived on the scene in the late afternoon. "With all these guns loose in the society, it doesn't take a terrorist to do what was done here today."
The only reason Daniel, a 50-year-old support contractor who didn't want to give his last name because he is employed at Navy Yard, wasn't in Building 197 when the shooting took place was because he was running late for work. He heard about it from a client before flipping on the television.
"Oh s---, I work in that building, I know people in that building," Daniel said he thought after hearing the first reports.
But even as many expressed sadness for the victims and their families, none were particularly surprised that shooters had been able to wreak so much havoc on the grounds of the Navy's oldest installation, the home of the Navy's top admiral, once painted as a fortress of security where someone couldn't just walk in easily and open fire.
"It's not like it's easy, but it's not that hard to get into the building. There are no metal detectors. If you have the right card, you're in," Daniel said. "This is speculation of course, but disgruntled employees are everywhere. Defense is taking some pretty deep cuts, and there's sequestration."
Crystal Adkisson, 35, was woken up by the commotion on the street and then a call from her mother in Chicago asking if she was all right. But outside her apartment building, which had been locked down that morning, down the street from the Navy Yard Monday afternoon, she shrugged off the fact the rampage had happened in her neighborhood and that two shooters could possibly be on the loose.
"I have all the faith in the world in my government. I don't feel unsafe," she said. "It's unfortunate, but things like this happen."
Barry and Carol Edwards had come to D.C. from Seabrook, N.H., to visit their daughter. Even as they heard sirens from their apartment, the Edwards said they couldn't honestly say they were shocked
"I think as Americans, we're less shocked and a little bit desensitized to be honest," Carol Edwards said. "I feel so sad for the people that died and their families but I wouldn't say I'm shocked by it. The state of the world is such. That might make me sound jaded, but it's just the way it is."
"Since 9/11, I just think it can happen anywhere," Barry Edwards said.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. David Reyes was waiting outside the Navy Yard facilities for his wife, who works in human resources in the building next to the Naval Sea Systems Command. He too was anxious and on edge, but had no expectation that facilities aligned with the United States military would be impenetrable.
"You just hope and pray people aren't that demented," Reyes said.
Kristen Mentasti, 29, a Denver native who lives near the Navy Yard, attended a candlelight vigil Monday night in Freedom Plaza, about two blocks from the White House. Around 30 people gathered to mourn the victims of the morning's violence.
Mentasti said she woke up Monday morning to a message from her child's school saying it was on lockdown because of the shooting. She said she wasn't able to retrieve her 4-year-old son until she received another message from the school.
"You can't do anything about it, basically," Mentasti said. "He's totally fine. He doesn't have a clue what's going on, I don't think."
She added, "I feel safe in this city. I really and truly do. ... And today kind of put it back into perspective: There's nowhere that's absolutely safe."
Wilson Dizard contributed to this report.