One Year Ago: 12 Killed in "Carnage" at D.C. Navy Yard - NBC 7 San Diego
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One Year Ago: 12 Killed in "Carnage" at D.C. Navy Yard

"We know now that while the pain has receded, it will never completely leave": Navy Sec. Ray Mabus

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Bell Chimes for Victims of Navy Yard Shooting

    One year ago Tuesday, 12 people were killed and eight people were injured in a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. On Tuesday, those victims were remembered with a solemn ceremony. (Published Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014)

    Bertillia Lavern has told the story of finding her co-worker shot in the temple, strapping him into an evacuation chair and undertaking the terrifying job of pulling him out of a building under attack.

    A Park Police officer, who had been on the job only three years, has shared the story of blocking out what a spokesman called "absolute carnage" in an office to conduct a cubicle-to-cubicle search to find, and eliminate, a gunman.

    The doctors at MedStar Washington Hospital Center didn't have to tell their stories. The emotions of a year ago were clear on their faces in photographs taken during the long wait for "multiple gunshot victims" coming to them in a fleet of ambulances.

    One year ago Tuesday, 12 people were killed and eight people were injured in a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. For anyone in the Washington, D.C., area, or anyone with ties to the Navy — or, frankly, for anyone who heard the story — the news came like a gut punch: Hell had broken out inside a secure military facility.

    Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old civilian contractor, had entered Building 197 at the Washington Navy Yard and shot at victims indiscriminately, killing a dozen people before police killed him. 

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    Tuesday, the focus is on remembering the lives of the 12 victims and on supporting their families.

    The day began with an invitation-only ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard, gathering officials and family members to remember those lost.

    "...[I]n 22 minutes, our worlds turned upside down," said Rear Adm. Margaret Grun-Kibben, chief of chaplains.

    Navy Sec. Ray Mabus said the pain of the losses will never completely fade.

    "Even in our sleep, pain which we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own depair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God," he said. "One year. We know now that while the pain has receded, it will never completely leave."

    Other speakers included Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and Vice Adm. William Hilarides, who is commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, or NAVSEA, which was headquartered in Building 197.

    Hilarides read the names of the victims as a bell rung 12 times, for each of those killed: "Mike Arnold. Marty Bodrog. Arthur Daniels. Sylvia Frasier. Kathy Gaarde. J. J. Johnson. Frank Kohler. Mary Knight. Kisan Pandit. Ken Proctor. Gerry Read. Mike Ridgell."

    At 6 p.m., city and federal officials joined Hilarides for a community event at Canal Park in southeast D.C. to commemorate the anniversary with prayers, readings and meditation.

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    Family members commemorate in more personal ways, too. Judy Johnson, wife of John "J.J." Johnson, who died in the shooting, planned to skip the ceremonies to spend time with her family and toast her late husband, with whom she used to have a martini after work.

    "My husband was the most beautiful human being that I have ever had the honor of having in my life," Judy Johnson said. "He just loved his Lord, he loved everybody, loved his country, loved his job.

    "He loved me with all his heart and soul," Judy said. "He was the light of my life. He was my best friend, my partner, he was my soul mate."

    Johnson told News4 how difficult this year has been, how she struggled to sleep, to eat or to leave her home.

    During some of the toughest times, she sought solace in a personal letter from Vice President Joe Biden, who suffered his own loss in 1972, when his wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident.

    "The time will come when J.J.’s memory brings a smile to your lips, before a tear to your eye," the letter reads. "My prayer for you is that day will come sooner, rather than later. But I assure you that it will come."

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    The victims of the shooting ranged in age from 46 to 73. Several were veterans. One was a former state trooper working as a security guard.

    Sylvia Frasier was a computer systems manager who also held a night job at Walmart because she loved interacting with people. Arthur Daniels installed office furniture for federal buildings, and was in Building 197 on a job.

    Vishnu Pandit, who everyone knew as Kisan, was born in Bombay but was proud of his civilian career with the Navy. He was the man whom Bertillia Lavern brought out of the building.

    They are among the victims honored Tuesday. They are:

    Michael Arnold, 59, of Lorton, Virginia, an avid pilot who was building a light airplane in his garage in his spare time;

    Martin Bodrog, 54, of Annandale, Virginia, a Naval Academy graduate who could be counted on to shovel an elderly neighbor’s walk;

    Arthur Daniels, 51, of Washington, D.C.;

    Sylvia Frasier, 53, of Waldorf, Maryland;

    Kathleen Nark Gaarde, 63, a wife and animal lover from Woodbridge, Virginia;

    John Roger "J.J." Johnson, 73, of Derwood, Maryland;

    Mary Francis Knight, 51, a civilian contractor from Reston, Virginia;

    Frank Kohler, 50, of Tall Timbers, Maryland, a Rotarian who served as "King Oyster" for the Lexington Park, Maryland Rotary Club;

    Vishnu "Kisan" Pandit, 61, of North Potomac, Maryland;

    Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46, of Waldorf, Maryland, a utilities foreman who was in building 197 just to get breakfast;

    Gerald L. Read, 58, of Alexandria, Virginia, who saved a co-worker’s life before losing his own; and

    Richard Michael Ridgell, 52, of Westminster, Md., the former Maryland state trooper who called himself on Twitter "just a dad who loves his girls."

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    The reasons for Alexis' rampage died with him. But investigators have said there are "multiple indicators" that Alexis had delusions, including the belief that he was being controlled or influenced by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves, which are used in submarine communications.

    Alexis had etched the words "End to the Torment!" onto the barrel of his Remington 870 shotgun, and "My ELF weapon!" onto its receiver, along with "Better off this way!"

    Inside a backpack in the fourth-floor bathroom were what investigators described as "electronic media," including a document that stated, "Ultra low frequency attack is what I’ve been subject to for the last 3 months, and to be perfectly honest that is what has driven me to this."

    Investigators know that, at about 8:08 a.m., Alexis went into Building 197 using a valid building pass. He went into a bathroom on the 4th floor and, at about 8:15 a.m., emerged with a Remington 870 shotgun with a sawed-off barrel and stock. Later he armed himself with a handgun as well.

    Alexis shot his first victim at 8:16 a.m., and for more than an hour, he shot indiscriminately at people inside the building. At 9:25 a.m., police found and killed Alexis.

    The lockdown at the Navy Yard lasted hours longer, and Building 197 has been closed ever since.

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    In the year since the shooting, the Navy has begun to transform Building 197. There are plans for a "Remembrance Area." A new entrance was created.

    Workers are expected to return for the first time in February. The building will be renamed after Joshua Humphreys, who designed the Navy's first six frigates.

    There’s also been investigations into some problems communicating that rescuers experienced that day, and that some victims’ family members experienced as they waited for news of their loved ones.

    Douglass Gaarde, Kathy’s husband, waited about 12 hours for news; he spent much of that time in the parking lot of Nationals Park, where military officials were bussing Building 197 employees.

    "Every bus that came, she wasn't on it," Gaarde said. "The anxiety just started exploding. I was just walking up and down. I was just pacing. I don’t know how many times."

    Meanwhile, the security contractor who did the background investigation into Alexis (and into NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden) is losing its massive contract with the federal Office of Personnel Management.

    But those continuing reverberations of the mass shooting — the second-deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. military facility and one of the deadliest single events in the nation's capital — will take a back seat Tuesday, to memories of those lost.

    "I know he’s here," Judy Johnson said of her husband.

    "And I know he loved me, with all his heart and soul. A lot of people never have in their life what I had."