Official explains what happened during the false report of a shooter at Norfolk Naval Shipyard
By BROCK VERGAKIS | The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot | Published: February 20, 2019
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The first notice last Thursday was terrifying: There was a report of an active shooter on a Navy shipyard.
“Lockdown Lockdown Lockdown,” Norfolk Naval Shipyard wrote on Facebook. “This is NOT a drill.”
Portsmouth police sent a SWAT team to investigate while thousands of civilian workers and sailors were told to shelter in place. The shipyard’s main campus is spread over 585 acres and includes 201 buildings.
During the next few hours, while local police and Navy security forces swept the sprawling industrial complex on the Elizabeth River, shipyard workers posted updates on social media and contacted frightened loved ones on what otherwise would’ve been a typical Valentine’s Day.
Many were certain they had heard gunshots. Some had said they saw police chasing someone from building to building. Others said they saw someone put into an ambulance.
Adding to the chaos, the shipyard said earlier in the morning that a threatening message was discovered on a restroom wall. Loved ones begged for updates on social media.
But more confusion reigned after Portsmouth police told reporters the active shooter was a false alarm before the Navy had published an update confirming it. Some workers and their family members insisted it was not a false alarm.
After all, employees were told grief counselors were available if they needed one.
But no shots ever were fired, the lockdown was lifted and Navy officials later concurred the entire thing was a false alarm. Some people were incredulous, posting that something had to have happened and that maybe the Navy was covering it up so it wouldn’t look bad.
Here’s what we know and don’t know about what happened. The following was provided to The Virginian-Pilot by Terri Davis, a spokeswoman for Norfolk Naval Shipyard, with some additions from other publicly available material. Some answers have been edited for clarity or length.
• When and where was a threatening message found?
About 9 a.m., a threatening message was discovered on a restroom wall in Building 22 at the shipyard. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating the message. The Navy did not provide details about what the message said.
• Did security personnel publicly sweep any specific area after the message was found?
Security personnel followed standard operating procedures. As a precautionary measure, the building was evacuated and a perimeter was set up.
• What time was the first report of an active shooter?
Region Dispatch Center received a “completely unrelated report” of shots fired in Building 17 at 10:48 a.m. Employees were notified via the AtHoc emergency alert program, via email and a Facebook post. The Facebook post is time stamped at 11:30 a.m., about the same time local media were notified via email.
• Where was the shooter reported to have been?
Initially, reports indicated a shooter in Building 17 and then Building 15. Both buildings are administrative offices.
• Some people thought they saw a SWAT team chasing after someone from building to building. How many buildings were searched?
Three buildings were searched internally: 17, 15 and 13. A sweep of building exteriors in the entire North End also was conducted prior to issuing an “All Clear.”
• Multiple people said they heard gunshots. What other sounds might that have been?
Giant Voice microphone being keyed or Naval Security Forces breaching doors or windows could have been mistaken for gunshots.
• Multiple people said they saw someone being put into an ambulance. Was this related?
One person from the Naval Security Force was transported to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth with a non-life-threatening injury. The Navy did not specify the nature of the injury, but a Facebook post from someone who claimed to be the patient said she was injured kicking down a door while searching for a shooter.
• When was the all-clear given?
A post on the shipyard’s Facebook page is time stamped at 1:40 p.m. Media were notified by the Navy about 1:42 p.m.
• Why were counseling services offered if nobody was shot?
For many involved, it was a scary and very stressful time. Even though we were fortunate and it was a false alarm, many people were affected by the traumatic situation. Out of concern for our employees, we arranged to have counselors on site to provide emotional support to any employee who requested it.
• What else should people understand about what happened?
I think it’s important for your readers to understand what is involved in an active shooter situation:
1) Every door to every room must be opened, every closet, bathroom, alcove must be investigated to ensure someone isn’t hiding within.
2) If a door is locked, it will be opened forcefully.