As a resident of a small Florida Panhandle town, I find horrible things usually happen elsewhere. Our neighboring town is Niceville (yes, really!), so how could the unspeakable happen in our neck of the woods? Well, it can and it did last Friday when an active shooter event at NAS Pensacola brought terror, death, and insecurity to our beautiful area here on the Gulf of Mexico. What happened and what’s the takeaway?
WHAT HAPPENED? It was a day like all days. Thousands of military members and civilians were streaming to work at NAS Pensacola, a base which employs 16,000+ military and 7,400 civilians. Being Friday, many were probably contemplating their weekend plans. Concern about a pending terrorist attack was a remote worry–if one at all. But, apparently, it should have been.
Shortly before 7:00 a.m. a report was received about an active shooter on the base. Response was swift; Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene in mere moments where shooting was underway in a classroom building. The pop of gunfire was certainly more alarming to the students than a pop quiz. Sadly, the shooter was one of them, and he killed three of his fellow students.
The students who died were all young (23, 21, and 19) active duty members of the U.S. Navy. It is unknown how they were doing in their military studies, but they aced real life heroism. The three ran TOWARD (not away from) the shooter. One of these students, although wounded extensively, got away and made contact with first responders; he provided a description of the shooter before succumbing to his injuries. It was helpful for the deputies to know more than the shooter was the lunatic firing a gun.
Law enforcement officers exchanged gunfire with the shooter who shot and wounded two deputies. One deputy managed to shoot and kill the shooter. At 7:50 a.m., the shooter was confirmed dead. The incident was over, but the questions about it were just beginning.
As the smoke from the gunfire cleared, authorities determined the shooter had killed three sailors, wounded eight people, and blown up the sense of safety and security in the Pensacola area. The Navy base was closed all day Friday and remained on lockdown through Sunday. Area residents and authorities were concerned because it was uncertain whether the shooter had been acting alone.
As if a shooting incident wasn’t bad enough, the community then learned the identity of the shooter. He was a 21 year old Saudi Air Force 2nd lieutenant, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, who had been in the U.S. for military training since 2017. The FBI has confirmed, to no one’s surprise, it is operating on the assumption the shooting was an act of terrorism.
Authorities believe a social medial post critical of U.S. support for Israel and claiming the U.S. is anti-Islamic was made by the shooter. Moreover, they learned the shooter had hosted a dinner party earlier in the week attended by three other students; in addition to eating, attendees viewed videos of mass shootings. Nevertheless, the Saudi Air Force officer, who was vetted in order to study here in the U.S., was flying under the radar as far as the authorities were concerned.
Of small consolation is the fact that the shooter legally purchased the gun he used to carry out his rampage. Whew! We wouldn’t want guns illegally in the hands of possible terrorists. The shooter wielded a Glock 45 9 mm gun which he bought legally in the Sunshine State. Typically foreigners cannot buy weapons here, but where there’s an evil will, there’s a way. The shooter found a legal loophole which allowed him to buy the gun. He purchased a hunting license by establishing state residency which then allowed him to buy a gun for hunting. Did no one think to ask him WHAT he planned to hunt? “Two legs or four, sir?”
In the immediate aftermath of the violence were reports that not all Saudis from NAS Pensacola were accounted for. Hello? Who’s minding the military store? How do you lose foreign military members? Later reports stated all Saudis had been accounted for and that they had never not been accounted for. Of course, these reports came from authorities who were clueless there was a gun-toting foreigner bashing America on social media among us before the incident, so let’s take what they have to say with a grain of salt. Moreover, let’s hope they are keeping an American eagle eye trained on the Saudi student who was filming the violence as it was ongoing.
WHAT’S THE TAKEAWAY?
Now that we know what happened at NAS Pensacola last Friday, what should we learn from it?
- There’s a potential for violence ANYWHERE. This incident occurred on a military base with restricted access; firearms are not authorized except for security forces. Armed guards are on site, and security is a paramount concern. If you can’t be safe there, where can you be safe? The answer is, of course, you can’t. You needn’t live in constant fear, but you should be cognizant of your surroundings.
- If you see something, say something. If anyone had bothered to report the shooter was watching videos of mass shootings or that someone had posted anti-American rhetoric on social media, perhaps last Friday’s shooting would never have happened. You can’t sit idly by. Bad things can and likely will happen if no one speaks up about something suspicious.
- We are the world. It is not simply Americans living in the U.S. The shooter was only one of about 200 foreign nationals receiving training at NAS Pensacola. In fact, there are over 5,000 foreign nationals from 153 countries who are undergoing military training in the U.S.; of this number, 852 are from Saudi Arabia. (Perhaps this figure should be reduced by one now with the death of the shooter.) People with different allegiances and ideologies are in our communities. That doesn’t necessarily mean someone from a foreign country is ipso facto a threat, it simply means that the world is right here among us.
My heart is heavy our beautiful Emerald Coast has been touched by hatred and violence. Last Friday was a day like all days filled with both good and bad. The bad was very bad–the senseless loss of young lives. The good was very good–those who rose to the occasion and acted as heroes at the cost of their own lives. Today is a new day, and it likewise will be filled with bad and good. Let’s do our part to contribute good to it.
If you live in the Florida Panhandle, has this violence impacted your sense of safety and security? What, if anything, could have been done to prevent this tragedy? What strikes you more–the selflessness of the three sailors who died taking on the shooter or the hatred of the shooter driving him to go on a shooting rampage?