He slipped into a fourth-floor men’s room and then — about 8:15 a.m. — everyone’s day changed.
As investigators piece together the critical details of a mass shooting that traumatized a military facility just south of Capitol Hill, bits of preliminary information — from law enforcement officials and others — provide pieces of the puzzle.
From the backpack, Alexis pulled a Remington 870 shotgun. He purchased it Saturday, along with a couple dozen shells, from a gun shop in Lorton, where he took some time to fire a few practice rounds on the shop’s range. He emerged from the men’s room Monday prepared to use it.
8:23 a.m.: D.C. police received the first report of gunshots from 1333 Isaac Hull Ave. — the address of the Naval Sea Systems Command, known on the base as Building 197.
Who got shot in the next 30-plus minutes was indiscriminate, just a matter of happenstance.
Capt. Mark Vandroff — a 1989 U.S. Naval Academy graduate — is a stickler for starting meetings on time. So Monday morning, the routine staff meeting began promptly at 8 a.m. in a third-floor conference room. It felt as if he had just begun handing out the week’s assignments and receiving reports.
“I heard the gunshots,” he said. “Someone screamed.” Someone yelled that there was a shooter. “Lock the doors! Lock the doors!”
The building has three main north-south hallways. Each opens onto an atrium. Sound carries from one floor to the next in ways it might not if it weren’t for the acoustics of the atrium. Then someone triggered the fire alarm.
Dozens of workers began to scramble.
“People were fleeing into offices,” Vandroff said. A few came into the conference room. They shut themselves in to “try to get another layer of protection” and barricaded the door with tables and chairs.
8:34 a.m.: An e-mail to Navy Yard personnel: “ALL HANDS on WNY. Shelter in place.”
Police teams that deal with ongoing shootings — four officers each, armed with AR-15 rifles — already were arriving at Building 197. Before it ended, there would be as many as seven teams involved in a fierce firefight.
The shots seemed to be coming from just south of where Vandroff and his colleagues were hiding.
By now, the police teams — joined by at least three naval security officers and U.S. Park Police — were moving in military fashion, stalking Alexis even as he stalked his victims on the fourth floor above Vandroff.
But the gunman had the advantage, familiar with the building’s layout and using the balcony wall for concealment as he fired the shotgun from the high ground into the atrium.