An aviation student from Saudi Arabia opened fire in a classroom building at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola on Dec. 6 morning, a U.S. official said, an attack that left three dead in addition to the assailant.
The student, who was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy, was a second lieutenant in the Saudi Air Force, said two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose information that had not yet been made public. The officials said authorities were investigating whether the attack was terrorism-related.
Saudi state media did not immediately report on the shooting. The kingdom has relied on the U.S. to train its military.
Eleven people were shot all together, including two sheriff’s deputies who were the first to respond, one of whom killed the shooter, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said. One of the deputies was shot in the arm and the other in the knee, and both were expected to recover, he said.
Lucy Samford, 31, said her husband, a Navy reservist and civilian worker on the base, was about 500 yards from where the shooting happened. She said she got a call from him a little after 7 a.m. and “one of the first things out of his mouth was, ‘I love you. Tell the kids I love them. I just want you to know there’s an active shooter on base.’”
Her husband, whom she declined to identify, later told her he was OK.
NAS Pensacola employs more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel, according to its website. One of the Navy’s most historic and storied bases, it sprawls along the waterfront southwest of downtown Pensacola and dominates the economy of the surrounding area.
Part of the Pensacola base resembles a college campus, with buildings where 60,000 members of the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard receive training each year in multiple fields of aviation.
The base is home is home to the Blue Angels flight demonstration team, and includes the National Naval Aviation Museum, a popular regional tourist attraction.
The shooting is the second at a U.S. naval base this week. A sailor whose submarine was docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, opened fire on three civilian employees Wednesday, killing two before taking his own life.
Alex McGinley, a tattoo artist who works near the Pensacola base, said he was alerted to the shooting by one of his clients, most of whom are military personnel. He said none of his clients was among those shot.
“What kind of things go through a person’s mind to a level that makes them do something like that?” McGinley asked.
Navy, families recount heroics of fallen sailors in shooting
Joshua Watson had just graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and looked forward to a military career as a pilot.
On Dec. 7, he was being hailed a hero, as his family recounted how the 23-year-old — in his last minutes of life — led first responders to an active shooter at the Pensacola naval base.
In a Facebook post, his brother Adam said Watson saved countless lives 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,” Adam Watson wrote on Facebook. “He died a hero,” he wrote.
The anguish spread from Pensacola and into communities across the country, as fellow Americans shared in the shock and grief of the Dec. 6 shooting that left four people dead, including the shooter, and eight others injured.
The Navy identified the other two victims as Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Ga.
The Navy praised all three flight school students for their “exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil.”
“When confronted, they didn’t run from danger; they ran towards it and saved lives,” Capt. Tim Kinsella, the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Pensacola, said in a statement Dec. 7.
Haitham’s mother, Evelyn Brady, told the Tampa Bay Times that her son joined the U.S. Navy after graduating from high school last year. The former track and field star had been assigned to flight crew training and was looking forward to graduating from the program later this month, she said.
“He said he was going to get his flight jacket for Christmas,” she said. “Now that’s not going to happen.”
News of the attack also hit hard in Enterprise, Ala., where Watson’s family was preparing Dec. 7 to drive 130 miles “I’m just an emotional wreck,” his father, Benjamin, told The Associated Press. “We want my son’s story told,” he said.
In an account he shared earlier with the Pensacola News Journal, his son was shot at least five times. Though wounded, the young officer flagged down first responders and described the shooter.
“He died serving his country,” the elder Watson said of his son.
Benjamin Watson told the News Journal that his son had reported to Pensacola two weeks ago for flight training to live out his dream of becoming a Navy pilot.
Adam Watson wrote nostalgically of his brother, who also went by his middle name Kaleb.
“When we were little I gave Kaleb the name little poot and it stuck. It eventually evolved into pootis and finally uncle poot,” he wrote on Facebook. “Just wish I could talk to him one more time or wrestle with him one more time even though he could probably take me now.”