After Navy Yard shooting, a shocked Capitol Riverfront community gets back to routines


A wilted bouquet of flowers sits on an anchor outside the Washington Navy Yard as residents and workers go about their day after the shooting that left 13 people dead, including the gunman. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
September 17, 2013

Baseball fans in red jerseys and ball caps were already wandering through the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood pregame Tuesday morning, but Henry Maury was taking his Nationals flag down. On this day, he wanted the American flag flying.

“It’s a gesture of support for the people who died and their families, and everyone who was down there,” he said as he hooked the six-foot-long American flag into place by his door.

The Navy Yard is just south of this fast-changing, eclectic area — close enough to the shooter’s rampage that many residents were warned to stay inside Monday.

Maury’s wife was frightened as they watched the panic and chaos around them: ambulances screeching past, police cars blocking roads, helicopters circling.

“So loud, so close,” he said.

Read eyewitness accounts from the Navy Yard shooting.

Some of their neighbors in this corner of Southeast Washington near the Anacostia River, such as John Young, a retired concrete finisher, tried to piece together what was happening from the news on TV.

Some, such as Robert Bassett, were even closer. He was in a locked, high-security room at the Navy Yard when he began getting alerts. Then a colleague told him he had seen people fleeing a nearby building and sheltering in his. One woman was bleeding from the neck.

“It was pretty nerve-racking,” he said.

By midmorning Tuesday, Bassett was out in the neighborhood in jeans and shower sandals, taking his Chihuahuas, Jake and Bobo, for a walk.

It all seemed surreal, people in the neighborhood kept saying. The fear and confusion Monday had shifted to a complicated mixture of relief and growing sorrow Tuesday. For some, Tuesday brought a welcome freedom, a return to the routines of work, errands and baseball games. For others, it brought something as yet unknown.

Bassett, a submarine engineer, felt more in shock Tuesday than he had during the shooting.

“You see the names” of the victims, he said. “These are real people. I know the names.”And, from what he has heard, the shooting started right where a close friend sits.

Pure, terrifying luck: She wasn’t in the office Monday.

So he is mourning those lost, trying to meet deadlines despite a shut-down office, and helping keep the ships at sea.

And getting the dogs out.

There were a lot of dogs getting out after a day cooped inside, barking their heads off.

“Cici was pretty freaked out” by all the noise Monday, said Lisa Peelen, walking her daughter’s now-cheerful boxer-pit-bull mix Tuesday.

This area has changed dramatically in the past several years, with clubs and public housing and a trash-transfer station torn down and replaced, bit by bit and block by block, with the ballpark, new restaurants, condominium towers, giant piles of construction dirt, government office buildings. The more than 300 homes in the Capitol Quarter development are a mix of expensive rowhouses and lower-income housing.

On a typical day, there are families going on bike rides, teenagers hanging out, consultants hurrying to the Metro, retirees watering flowers. On Monday, the neighborhood was laced with yellow police tape and people watched the scene from upstairs windows.

On Tuesday, TV satellite trucks were rolling past, heading home; the weedy lot they had filled Monday was half-empty.

Ruth Ostler, a 30-year-old nanny, had spent Monday holed up with a 6-month-old whose father was locked down in the Navy Yard. On Tuesday, she was happy to be out in the sunshine, wheeling the little girl around and tickling her tummy.

“I’ve been giving her extra hugs,” she said. “I think I needed it, too.”

John Young had come out on his stoop, hoping neighbors in the skinny, pastel Capitol Quarter rowhouses would wander by to chat. Tuesday was his birthday, and after a Monday like that, he was looking forward to “doing nothing. Nothing.”

He said he might watch the baseball game at home or — now that M Street was open and his neighborhood wasn’t bristling with red and blue lights and yellow tape — walk to the ballpark.

Maury, a retired federal worker and sometime consultant, was planning to go raspberry-picking Tuesday afternoon and to the baseball game Wednesday.

“Come back, Genevieve,” he said, nudging his cat back inside the door, even though it was now safe to go out.

Susan Svrluga is a Virginia rover for the Washington Post, covering anything and everything that’s happening in the Commonwealth.
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