Rollie Chance was home in Stafford, about 40 miles south of Washington, when he began watching the news about the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard Monday morning. A retired Navy lieutenant, he had worked in Building 197 on the fourth floor and was worried that some of his friends and former colleagues might have been killed.
Then shortly after noon, he got a phone call from someone who said they were with ABC News. “They asked me if I knew Rollie Chance,” Rollie Chance said. “Then they said, ‘Did you know Rollie Chance was the perpetrator of the Washington Navy Yard shootings?’”
Chance, 50, thought the call was a joke. He told the caller, “I guarantee you 100 percent Rollie Chance didn’t do it,” and hung up.
Moments later, FBI agents arrived at his home. Soon after, reporters began piling up at the curb. And on Twitter, reporters for both NBC and CBS named Chance as the now-deceased killer. CBS also identified Chance on national radio. ABC, which called Chance, did not report any connection.
The two network news outlets quickly retracted their tweets and CBS corrected its radio report. But Chance is wondering how he will ever erase the accusatory Internet trail that led to his door and is trying to work through days of anxiety for his family, including his 9-year-old daughter, whom he held out of school for a day.
“Verify before you vilify,” Chance implored in an interview Friday with his lawyer Mark Cummings. He joined a list of innocent people wrongly connected to high-profile crimes, to include the brother of the Newtown school shooter, two Boston men wrongly linked to the Boston Marathon bombings, and security guard Richard Jewell at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing.
“We reported what we learned from law enforcement sources and it was corrected within minutes,” said Sonya McNair, senior vice president of communications for CBS News. NBC News officials said in a statement: “We received misinformation from reliable sources and immediately corrected.”
Chance’s name filtered to the media because one of his identification cards reportedly was found near the body of Aaron Alexis, the man actually responsible for the shootings. Chance said he has no idea how that happened, and that he had not been in Building 197 since October, when he turned in two military access cards to his division head and went on administrative leave from his civilian job as an engineering technician.
“I don’t know Aaron Alexis,” Chance said. “I’d never heard of Aaron Alexis. I’ve never met Aaron Alexis.”
He said FBI agents questioned him thoroughly, then searched his home with his consent. “I was trying to be cooperative,” he said.
Chance is a Brooklyn native who rose from enlisted man to lieutenant in a 24-year Navy career, serving on amphibious assault ships such as the USS Nassau and the USS Bataan, before retiring from active duty in 2008. He then worked four more years as a civilian engineer in Naval Sea Systems Command at the Navy Yard. “I would never think about hurting my friends, those guys in Building 197,” he said. “I worked with them for years.”
He said if he had falsely accused someone in the Navy, he would be held accountable. “The media should have a certain amount of accountability,” he said.
Chance worried about his prospects in seeking a job, with employers checking him on Google. “To my knowledge, there’s no way to scrub this,” he said.
Chance said he was speaking publicly because “I don’t want anyone to go through this. I wouldn’t want my worst enemies to go through what I went through.”