The first reports of the Washington Navy Yard shooting sounded bad enough Monday morning: First two dead. Then three. Later, it was six dead, then 10.
The mightiest capital city in the mightiest country on Earth was virtually paralyzed with fear, chaos and the unknown, its airplanes grounded, its subway cars halted, its highways closed. Schools and the Congress of the United States were locked down.
By late afternoon, it was 13 dead, an entire nation wounded, again.
"I'm a 31-year Navy veteran, and it was like 9/11 happened all over again," said a Navy officer who works at the Naval Yard and declined to give his name.
Officials said the Navy Yard shooter, later identified as Aaron Alexis, 34, began shooting inside the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters building at 8:20 a.m.
Navy Capt. Mark Vandroff had been holding a routine Monday morning meeting with eight employees on the fourth floor of Building 197 at Navy Yard when shots rang out.
"My first reaction was not to really think anything of it, because the first shot just sounded like a loud noise," said Vandroff. "Some of the shots we heard were single and a couple times it sounded like multiple shots."
Thirteen people, including a suspected shooter, were killed in the attack.
It marked the single worst loss of life in the District since 1982, when a plane plunged into the Potomac River, killing 78.
Authorities were continuing to search for a possible second shooter, a black man about 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, between 40 and 50 years old with a medium complexion and gray sideburns, wearing an olive-colored military uniform.
Vandroff, who works in a procurement office for the U.S. Navy, and his staff barricaded the doors to the conference room with tables and chairs. The building is home to the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters.
"Then we heard gunshots and looked up and saw two bullet holes on the ceiling above in the conference room," said Vandroff, who was evacuated after 10 a.m.
Building 197 is tightly secured. "No one gets into that building that isn't either escorted or isn't cleared with a credential," said Vandroff. "The normal way we get into that facility - our credentials are computer coded - the front door has an armed guard, you go past the armed guard to a kiosk where you present your credentials. The computer checks to see if you are authorized to be in the building and then you get a green light and walk in."
Many Navy Yard employees who spent hours behind their locked office doors were evacuated via buses to nearby Nationals Park, where police cordoned off the entrance and the adjacent Garage B for family members to reunite with their loved ones.
Doug Hughes of Woodbridge had been at work about two hours on Building 197's first floor when the first shots were fired.
"I didn't think they were shots at the time," Hughes said. "One of our chiefs ran in and said shots had been fired and to take cover. I wanted to get some place I couldn't be seen."
Hughes, a project engineer for Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, and another woman ended up locking themselves in an office. He later realized that they should have sought out an office without a window. Despite the potential danger, all he can remember thinking is how he wished someone would have turned off the automated message that played with the building's fire alarm.
The two were locked inside before a man with a badge arrived to let them out.
"We didn't really say much to each other. We were just listening to what was going on. It is kind of surreal when you're in it," he said. "You have no idea what's going on. You have no idea whether you should be scared."
Hughes was still shaken when he arrived at the ballpark after 3 p.m. Having worked for the Navy since 1995, he said he wasn't sure when the investigation will allow him and his colleagues to return to work. He was in a hurry to hop on the Metro so he could go home and see his wife.
"I'm just going to hug her," he said.
- At Least 12 Dead at Washington Navy Yard, Shooter Killed
- Live Coverage: DC Navy Yard Shootings
- Coast Guard Establishes Security Zone in Reaction to Navy Yard Shooting
- Washington Navy Yard: What it Is, Who Works There
- Washington Navy Yard Shootings: Photos, Coverage, Links From Across the Web
- Security Increased at Regional Military Installations
- Fort Meade Boosts Gate Security Following Navy Yard Shootings
- Security at Joint Base Andrews Heightened, Not Revamped After Naval Yard Shootings
- Naval Academy Staff 'Monitoring Situation' at Navy Yard
- DC Navy Commander Witnesses Man Get Shot: 'I Was Running For My Life'
- Patrols Added at Metro, No Delays
- MCPS Offers Counseling for Students in Wake of DC Shootings
- Nationals-Braves Game Rescheduled