In the days after the attack on military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., last month, a complicated picture of what occurred began to emerge. Among the details: At least one service member, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Timothy White, opened fire on the shooter using a personally owned firearm before the shooter was killed by police.
The attack on the Naval Reserve support center in Chattanooga killed four Marines and a Navy sailor, and spawned a national debate about whether the U.S. military should arm more service members who work out of small, unguarded facilities like recruiting stations and reserve centers. But it also spawned questions about whether White could face discipline for carrying and discharging a privately owned handgun on federal property, where it was not allowed.
On Saturday, conservative columnist Allen B. West took the issue on, saying that he could “confirm that the United States Navy is bringing charges against Lt. Cmdr Timothy White for illegally discharging a firearm on federal property.” He did not identify his source, but followed by ripping Pentagon leaders, the Navy and President Obama.
“Can you imagine the message this sends to ISIS and all the enemies of America?” West wrote, using an acronym for the Islamic State militant group. “We are going to end his career and court-martial a man who drew his sidearm to protect his command, and the assigned Sailors and Marines. ”
Presidential candidate Jim Webb (D-Va.), a Marine war hero and former Navy secretary, also raised concerns Saturday night on Twitter:
Perhaps aware of the questions his tweet raised, Webb followed up with more context Sunday:
The Navy responded to questions about the case Sunday on its Facebook page, saying that “stories of Navy personnel being charged with an offense are not true.
“There is still a long way to go in reviewing the facts of this tragic incident, but at this time we can confirm no service member has been charged with an offense,” the Navy added.
On Monday, officials at the Pentagon went even further, telling The Washington Post that criminal charges are unlikely in White’s case. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the open investigation.
Navy Cmdr. William J. Marks, a service spokesman, said that White’s actions remain under review as part of a broader assessment, known as a preliminary inquiry, into what occurred in Chattanooga.
“Until the facts of that preliminary inquiry have all been reviewed, it is simply too early to speculate on what may happen with any particular individual,” Marks said.
The situation has continued to raise questions, though. Some have noted that the service said no service member has been charged with an offense “at this time,” leaving the possibility it could occur later. Tens of thousands of supporters also have signed an online petition to the White House for White, saying he and anyone else who opened fire on the shooter — Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24 — deserves a medal for valor rather than a punishment.
Among those who have weighed in are actor James Woods and television personality Montel Williams, a Navy veteran:
It’s worth noting that the Navy has a variety of options on the table. For one, it could feasibly recognize White for valor, while still taking some administrative action against him less serious than criminal charges.
Those options could include professional counseling or a non-punitive letter of caution. A letter along those lines would not be considered punishment, but rather a formal way of noting a deficiency or professional mistake, according a Navy memo.
All of this comes as the military continues to address how it should better protect service members while they are stateside. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter indicated last week that he is opening more of them in some cases, although the details remain hazy.
The attack on the reserve center killed Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40; Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, 35; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist; Lance Cpl. Squire D. “Skip” Wells, 21; and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, 26. The shooter Abdulazeez was killed by police officers responding to the attack.
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Heroism in the Chattanooga Naval Reserve Center: ‘He went back to get the others.’