PENSACOLA, Florida — A shooter opened fire in a classroom building at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola on Friday in an attack that left four people dead, including the assailant, and multiple people wounded. The shooting — the second at a U.S. Navy base this week — prompted a massive law enforcement response and a lockdown at the base.
U.S. officials identified the shooter as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Saudi Air Force who was in the U.S. for flight training. Military from around the globe attend training at Pensacola.
During a news conference Friday night, the FBI wouldn't comment on his possible motivations. Authorities were investigating whether the attack was terrorism-related.
Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott issued a scathing statement calling the shooting an obvious act of terrorism “whether this individual was motivated by radical Islam or was simply mentally unstable."
Scott added that it was “clear that we need to take steps to ensure that any and all foreign nationals are scrutinized and vetted extensively before being embedded with our American men and women in uniform.”
Foreign students from “partner nations” have trained at the base to learn naval aviation for years, base commander Capt. Tim Kinsella told reporters.
“There’s always been international students training here because it’s a good place to train, it’s good quality training,” he said, estimating that there are a couple hundred foreign students at the base.
President Trump said he spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia, who told him "that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people."
As a result of the Saudi connection, the FBI had taken over full control of the shooting investigation and said it was global in scope, with agents posted in Riyadh tasked with obtaining background information about the shooter.
Officials said the FBI was also examining social media posts and investigating whether the shooter acted alone or was connected to any broader group.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis offered “full support to law enforcement" and said Saudi Arabia needed to be held to account for the attack.
“There’s obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi Air Force and then to be here training on our soil,” DeSantis said. “Obviously, the government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims.”
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.
"Walking through the crime scene was like being on the set of a movie," Morgan told reporters.
“This doesn’t happen in Escambia County. It doesn’t happen in Pensacola. It doesn’t happen to our friends and neighbors who are members of the U.S. Navy,” Morgan said. “But it did, and it has.”
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.
Friday’s shooing attack in Pensacola came just two days after an active duty U.S. sailor, 22-year-old Gabriel Romero, killed two civilian employees and injured another before killing himself at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii. Romero was unhappy with his commanders and had been undergoing counseling, military officials said Friday.
Meantime, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday that he was “considering several steps to ensure the security of our military installations and the safety of our service members and their families." He did not elaborate.
Naval Air Station Pensacola employs more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel, according to the base’s website. The facility includes the Naval Aviation Schools Command, Naval Air Technical Training Center, Marine Aviation Training Support Group 21 and 23, the Blue Angels, and the headquarters for Naval Education Training Command, a command which provides direction and control of all Navy education and training.
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.
Many families also live there on the base, said retired Rear Adm. John Kirby, a military and diplomatic analyst, who was once stationed there.
“They love the base there,” Kirby said of the sailors. “It’s a great relationship between the people of Pensacola and the Navy and the base there. It’s a terrific Navy town.”