CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WATE/AP) – A military official says several troops “ran back into the fight” after getting their colleagues to safety during an attack in Chattanooga that left four Marines and a sailor dead.
Maj. Gen. Paul W. Brier, commanding general of the 4th Marine Division, said during a news conference Wednesday in Chattanooga that there were 20 Marines and two Navy corpsman inspecting equipment at a joint Marine-Navy facility when the attack happened on Thursday.
Brier says the troops “reacted the way you would expect” during an attack, rapidly going room to room to get others to safety. They had just returned from a training exercise in California. He says once they got to safety, several ran back into the fight.
The gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, of Hixson died after a gunfight with police. Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait. The FBI says a military service member opened fire on the Chattanooga gunman after he crashed through the gates of a military facility there.
Ed Reinhold, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Knoxville, said during a news conference Wednesday that a service member fired at the shooter after he crashed his rented, silver Mustang convertible through the gates of a joint Marine-Navy facility.
Reinhold says the gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, went inside the building and shot a service member. He then made his way through the building and continued shooting. Abdulazeez went out the back, and then shot and killed two more people before Chattanooga police opened fire on him.
The FBI says it is treating the Chattanooga gunman as a “homegrown violent extremist” and that it is too early to determine if he had been radicalized. Reinhold says authorities believe Abdulazeez acted alone, without the assistance of anyone else when he attacked two military sites in Tennessee on Thursday.
The FBI says two weapons recovered at the scene of a shooting that left five service members dead in Chattanooga did not belong to the gunman. Reinhold said that at least one service member opened fire on the gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez. Abdulazeez had three guns; two other guns recovered at the scene belonged to service members.
When asked if anyone was hit by friendly fire, Reinhold said preliminary reports indicated the four Marines and one sailor killed all were hit by bullets from the same gun. When asked if anyone was hit by friendly fire, Reinhold said preliminary reports indicated the four Marines and one sailor killed all were hit by bullets from the same gun.
Reinhold says one of the service members was killed inside the military building; the other four were killed outside.
Abdulazeez called in sick to work on day of shooting
Multiple sources, including coworkers, told WKRN Thursday night the gunman in the Chattanooga shooting worked in Franklin, Tennessee, at Superior Essex Inc. for the past three months.
One employee told WKRN he called out sick both Monday and Tuesday. It wasn’t clear if he did the same Wednesday or Thursday. The employee also said the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed up to the Franklin plant Thursday night and specifically questioned a man he commuted with to work regularly.
Agents with the TBI told supervisors they didn’t expect to find anything and were there as a precaution.
The shootings, which only took place minutes apart, began at 10:45 a.m. when the gunman stopped his car and sprayed dozens of bullets at a recruiting center on Lee Highway for all military branches. He then drove to a Navy-Marine training center seven miles away where four Marines were shot dead.
“He never got out of the car, Gina Mule, a server at a local restaurant, told CNN. “He had a big, huge, high-powered rifle, and he was unloading shots right into recruiters.”
A witness saw the gunman open fire at the Armed Forces Recruiting Center Thursday afternoon. Brandon Elder was working just a few doors down when he heard shots.
“It sounded like somebody jack hammering at the side of the building,” Elder said.
He looked out of the window and saw Abdulazeez calmly firing into the building while driving.
“He was going back and forth shooting. Reversing, coming forward, reversing, coming forward and shooting,” Elder said. “I felt scared. I didn’t know what to do. It caught me by surprise I was just like what is going on. When I looked out the window it felt like a movie. It felt like it wasn’t real. It felt like this can’t be happening right now.”
The shooter was targeting the men and women in our military.
“You could tell that’s what his main objective was just that. He didn’t shoot at nothing else but that. We thought he was going to come down and shoot the whole thing up but he was just right there that was it,” Elder said. “We saw all the marines running to the back and we actually saw one of the marines got shot in the leg. He went and came in our building.”
When the gunshots finally stopped, Elder says Abdulazeez drove away like nothing happened, just minutes before he would kill four marines.
CNN reports the shooting suspect was armed with an AK-47 style weapon and carrying 30-round magazines at the time of the attack according to two law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Friday he was armed with two long guns and at least one handgun. Officials said some may have been purchased illegally.
“Today four of them are gone and one of them is fighting for their life,” said Sen. Bob Corker at a news conference.
Several people have been reported wounded. The Navy confirms a sailor is in critical condition at an area hospital. A Marine recruiter and a Chattanooga police officer was also hurt. The officer, who asked his identity not be released, is said to be doing as well as can be expected.
Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher spoke at length at a press conference Friday about the bravery of officers in his department. He specifically mentioned that his officers immediately responded and began searching when the first call came out. They located him on the highway between the first and second shooting location. They located him at the second location and once his homicidal intent became clear, engaged him in gunfire.
One Chattanooga officer was shot by the suspect. His teammates immediately came to his aid and pulled him to safety, returning fire the whole time.
The Marine Corps has identified the four men killed as Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan of Hampden, Massachusetts; Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt of Burke, North Carolina; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist of Polk, Wisconsin; and Lance Cpl. Squire K. Wells of Cobb County, Georgia, who a family spokesman says went by “Skip.”
Related story: Marine Corps identifies 4 killed in Chattanooga shooting
A video taken by Jonathen Whitaker in Chattanooga Thursday shows officers reacting to multiple harrowing gunshots.
FBI special agent in charge Ed Reinhold said Abdulazeez had “numerous weapons” but would not give details.
“We are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism, whether it’s domestic, international, or whether it was a simple criminal act,” Reinhold said.
Within hours of the bloodshed, law officers with guns drawn swarmed what was believed to be Abdulazeez’s house, and two females were led away in handcuffs, according to the Associated Press.
A dozen law enforcement vehicles, including a bomb-squad truck and an open-sided Army green truck carrying armed men, rolled into the Colonial Shores neighborhood of Hixson, and police closed off streets and turned away people trying to reach their homes.
Abdulazeez graduated from the University of Chattanooga in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, school spokesman Mike Andrews said. He was a student intern a few years ago at the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federally owned utility that operates power plants and dams across the South. An official cause of death has not been released, but sources said he was killed in a firefight with officers.
In Washington, President Barack Obama pledged a prompt and thorough investigation and said the White House had been in touch with the Pentagon to make sure military installations are being vigilant.
“It is a heartbreaking circumstance for these individuals who served our country with great valor to be killed in this fashion,” he said.
Vice President Joe Biden likewise said: “Their families have already given a lot to the country, and now this.”
Gov. Bill Haslam spoke to the media on two occasions Thursday, each time offering his condolences to the victims.
“Tennessee and Chattanooga reacted just as I thought they would, with an outpouring of love,” said Haslam.
Blood donation center Blood Assurance posted on Twitter they had an urgent need for donations. Click here for a list of donation centers.
Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call (865) 602-7582.