To the elder Walters, Cameron’s face that day said, “Look at me, dad — just like you.”
Cameron Walters was one of three naval aviation school students killed Friday when a Saudi Royal Air Force member opened fire at the Florida base Walters had just started to call home. Authorities say gunman Mohammed al-Shamrani was in the United States for training when he shot Walters, 19-year-old Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 23-year-old Joshua Kaleb Watson and eight others who are injured but recovering.
In the wake of the early-morning rampage, family and friends of the shooter’s victims have described beloved quirks, lives of promise and brave final moments. Officials, too, praised the students’ actions amid violence they say has devastated the military community.
“The sailors that lost their lives in the line of duty showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil,” Capt. Tim Kinsella, the Pensacola base’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “When confronted, they didn’t run from danger; they ran towards it and saved lives."
As details about the incident emerge slowly, with officials emphasizing they do not want to rush to release potentially inaccurate information, some of the sailors’ loved ones are also demanding accountability. How the gunman got his 9mm Glock handgun on the base remains unclear, but Shane Walters blasted what seems to him like a “huge breach” of security given that military bases generally do not allow outside weapons.
“There’s so many reasons why this should not have happened,” Walters said. “They’re expecting to get killed on a battlefield. Not on a training base.”
Law enforcement officials said they responded to active shooter reports around dawn to find a grim scene of bodies, blood and broken glass at the air station classroom where the attack unfolded, ending when a sheriff’s deputy fatally shot the gunman.
The FBI is looking into the shooting as a terrorist act but has yet to announce a motive and is still trying to determine whether Shamrani acted alone, lead investigator Rachel Rojas said Sunday. Rojas, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville division, said multiple Saudi students close to the gunman are cooperating and providing information with investigators as their Saudi commanding officer restricts them to the base that hosts 16,000 military personnel and more than 7,000 civilians.
As investigators continue to interview, families mourn.
Walters, of Richmond Hill, Ga., was always ready to help, his father said Sunday. He remembered a loving kid quick to pitch in when he came home to find his dad working on a car.
“He wouldn’t even get undressed,” he said. “He would just grab the wrench and say, ‘I got this, daddy.’”
Shane Walters also recalled a son who coached softball, liked fast cars and tried to make his special treatment for birthdays last a week long. He spoke of a young man who emerged from 10 weeks of boot camp a different person, waking at dawn and always checking his watch to make sure he’d be on time.
Settling into life at Pensacola, Walters said, Cameron confided small missteps in daily FaceTime calls. He shared his dismay at failing a test over a wrong word, his father said. He thought he’d pass a uniform check perfectly, until a superior asked him to remove his hat and found a stray thread.
Cameron was proud, though, of the man the military was shaping him up to be, Shane Walters said.
When the worst news possible came Friday night with knock on the Walters’ door, Cameron’s father was devastated and tearful, he said — and furious over the death he believes better on-base security could have prevented.
He’s resolved not to let Cameron’s siblings join the military he was so proud to serve in: “Why would I condone my children joining the military when we can’t protect them on our own military bases?” he said.
Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, who oversees U.S. base security as chief of U.S. Northern Command, has directed domestic bases and units to “immediately assess force protection measures and implement increased random security measures for their facilities,” Northcom said in a tweet early Sunday.
But Shane Walters wants details. He has requested to talk with the president and was told arrangements are being made.
“We let our guard down. We didn’t do the right thing,” he said. "[The shooter] got a gun, he got on base, and he killed my son.”
Friday’s toll could have been worse if recent Naval Academy graduate Watson, shot at least five times, hadn’t rushed to tell law enforcement about the shooter before he died, family said.
Adam Watson said his younger brother shared “invaluable” details with officers before being taken to Baptist Hospital, where relatives told the Pensacola News Journal Watson succumbed to his wounds.
“Joshua Kaleb Watson saved countless lives today with his own,” Adam Watson wrote in a post on Facebook. “He died a hero and we are beyond proud, but there is a [hole] in our hearts that can never be filled.”
Joshua Watson had wanted to be in the military since he was a boy, his father told the News Journal. He was inspired by his uncle, Richard Lindsay, who served in Operation Desert Storm and was killed in a vehicle accident.
At the Naval Academy, the News Journal reported, Watson was captain of the rifle team, a small-arms instructor and a wrestling coach.
“Just wish I could talk to him one more time or wrestle with him one more time,” Adam Watson wrote of his brother on Facebook, “even though he could probably take me now.”
On Saturday, the Watson family prepared to drive the 125 miles south to Pensacola to see their son, the Associated Press reported.
“His mission was to confront evil,” Benjamin Watson told the News Journal. “To bring the fight to them, wherever it took him. He was willing to risk his life for his country."
Friends also lauded the actions of Charles Hogue, a base police officer who was shot in the thigh while responding to the shooting, according to a family member. The relative told The Washington Post Saturday afternoon that Hogue had been released from the hospital and is doing well.
“Charles has always been a hero in our eyes, but today he truly showed why he is one of our country’s finest,” said a Facebook post from Perdido Bay’s youth soccer club, where Hogue is a referee. “Please keep Mr. Charles in your thoughts and prayers.”
Family and friends described Haitham as a former track-and-field star who joined the Navy this year after studying at a community college and working at a Publix grocery store. Haitham graduated from a Florida high school in 2018, as first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
Haitham’s mother is a Navy veteran who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Kimberly Walker, who said Haitham was her son’s best friend. Haitham’s decision to join the Navy warmed his mother’s heart.
“I think he knew that was a ticket to get a good education,” Walker said. “And I know he made his mom proud.”
Walker said Haitham, who went by “Mo,” and her son loved to run together, play video games and go out for Slurpees. Haitham was a “goofball” whose run-of-the-mill fears, such as darkness, sometimes made for funny stories, she said. When Haitham was 16, he once started telling ghost stories to Walker’s then 8-year-old daughter while they were outside at night, but he had to stop because he was getting too scared.
Haitham had been stationed in Pensacola for only a few months and had recently completed basic training, Walker said. She said authorities told Haitham’s family that he had tried to stop the shooter.
“He was just so good that I knew the second [authorities] talked about a hero that he wouldn’t allow anybody else to take a bullet if he could get in the way of it,” Walker said.
Anthony Snead, who coached Haitham in track and cross-country at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, remembered how he came through for the team during a qualifying meet for a state championship. Haitham “really showed up that day” and ran a personal record.
Haitham had recently rekindled his Christian faith and was attending church with a classmate, Snead said. He said he was proud of Haitham for that commitment, as well as for the strong work ethic that he developed as he grew up. Haitham once told Snead that he was unsure what he wanted to do with his life, but he wanted it to be positive.
“He didn’t want to be somebody who was going to coast,” Snead said. “He wanted to be someone who was going to be a positive influence. And he worked like it.”
Alice Crites and Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.
A previous version of this story misspelled Cameron Scott Walters’ name. This story has been updated.