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Authorities Investigate Florida Navy Base Shooting

Dec 7, 2019
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Pensacola, Fla., where a gunman killed three people and wounded eight others at the Naval Air Station yesterday. Just outside the gates of the base at the Olive Baptist Church, Air Force service member Nicole Ebani (ph) attended a prayer vigil. She was on base when the shooting happened yesterday and spent the rest of the day in lockdown inside her apartment. She said this was the first time she's been out, but felt she had to come.

NICOLE EBANI: Just to pay our respects - that it could happen anywhere. And we're also service members, so it just felt right to be here.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Allen is in Pensacola, and he is with us now.

Greg, thanks so much for joining us.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: You're welcome.

MARTIN: The authorities have said that the shooting was done by a Saudi national, a member of the Saudi air force at the base for training. Have they said any more than that?

ALLEN: Well, very little, Michel. The big question, of course, here is whether this was an act of terrorism. And on that issue, authorities won't say at this point. Some elected officials, including a congressman and Florida Senator Rick Scott, say it is terrorism, but they haven't provided any details. In the meantime, troubling information has been emerging, although very little has been confirmed yet by authorities.

One key detail involves a Twitter account that appears to have belonged to the gunman. It talks broadly about American crimes against Muslims, and it was posted apparently just before the shooting occurred. And later in the day, Twitter suspended the account, but that's about all we know about that at this point.

MARTIN: So, Greg, what can you tell us about the condition of the victims?

ALLEN: Well, today we learned the identity of one of those who was killed. His - it's Joshua Kaleb Watson. He was a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He was at the Naval Air Station there for flight training. His brother posted information on Facebook today. On the post, he said Joshua, quote, "saved countless lives today with his own. After being shot multiple times, he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was, and those details were invaluable." And then Watson's father spoke to the Pensacola News Journal. He said his son was taken to the hospital but didn't survive on arriving there.

At today's prayer vigil in - here in Pensacola, the chief deputy sheriff in Escambia County, Chip Simmons, had a few details on some of those wounded. He talked about two sheriff's deputies and someone that he identified as a Navy policeman who were among those were wounded. One deputy was treated and released. The other officer and the Navy policeman, he said, were doing well and in good spirits. Here's a little more of what he had to say.

CHIP SIMMONS: It shook us all. It shakes the first responders. It shakes law enforcement. It gets there, but we know this - that the training and the support that we get from our community - from this community, from you guys - is what's going to help Pensacola and Escambia County get back to where we need to be.

MARTIN: And, Greg, tell us what we know about the investigation at this point.

ALLEN: Well, it's all being handled by the FBI, and they're not known for being really free with details. Although, as I say, there's a lot of information that's being sourced by various news organizations but has not - they've not confirmed publicly. Today, they've released photos of personnel working the crime scene and collecting evidence. They say they're focused on conducting additional interviews. In a tweet today, the FBI said members of its Joint Terrorism Task Force are part of the investigation, but they haven't determined the shooter's motivation.

So those are some of what the FBI has been saying. Meanwhile, reporters asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper about this - he was at a conference - about what he thinks, whether terrorism is involved. He says that - he wouldn't say - he says too early to say about that. But he says they are taking a look at how the U.S. government grants foreign nationals access to its military bases here in the U.S.

MARTIN: Thanks. That's NPR's Greg Allen in Pensacola, Fla.

Greg, thank you.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.