“This is a safe city, and we should go about our business,” Norton said. “The facility itself is one of the most secure facilities in the District.”
But for those inside the Navy Yard when the shooting occurred, it was a day of terror and uncertainty.
“It’s unbelievable that someone could get a rifle in there,” said David Stevens, a Navy contractor who was on the third floor of Building 197 when the shooting began.
He ran to the edge of a glass atrium that overlooks all the floors and glanced up. He could not see anything but heard a “second deluge” of shots — perhaps six.
One floor below Stevens, another contractor, Paul Desbiens, said the first thing he heard was the fire alarm, which went off around 8:30 a.m. He realized something more serious was going on as he and others encountered police at the building’s entrance.
“They didn’t say what was going on,” Desbiens said. “They just said, ‘Run!’ ”
Vice Adm. Bill French, the head of all Navy installations, said late Monday that about 2,000 civilians remained at the Navy Yard and that it could take until 11 p.m. or later to finish processing them off the base.
Removal of the employees was painfully slow because the FBI was still interviewing every person leaving the base, out of concern that a second suspect might still be at large.
SWAT teams were still finding people hiding in places on the base, where they had remained hunkered down since early morning. One city official said that shortly before 7 p.m., officers found an employee hiding in a locker, where he had been for nearly 11 hours.
Navy Undersecretary Juan Garcia said the Navy Yard would reopen Tuesday for essential personnel only. Most employees would be encouraged to telecommute. Garcia said it was unclear when the base would reopen in its entirety.
It was the second mass shooting in recent years inside the secure confines of a military base, coming after Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and injured more than 30 in 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas.
The Navy Yard shooting marks the seventh time in the past decade that a gunman has killed 10 or more people in a single incident. The most notable incidents were the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting in which 32 died; the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting last year in which 12 were killed; the Newtown, Conn., school shooting last year in which 26 were killed; and the 2009 Fort Hood rampage.