A now-iconic image emerged from the Washington Navy Yard shooting Monday: A civilian helping a blind colleague exit the building to safety.
As bullets flew, civilian employee Omar Grant took his unidentified co-worker’s arm and led him out of the building. A photo capturing the moment was posted by Yahoo! News reporter Chris Moody on Twitter.
“As soon as we got outside the cafeteria doors into the hallway, we saw people panicked, running for the exits,” Grant told TODAY’s Carson Daly in an Orange Room phone interview Tuesday. “They were shouting. I couldn’t make out exactly what they were shouting, but I knew it was something serious. I told my colleague there that we were going to get out of the building, and I was going to help him because normally he’s got somebody with him there, and this morning he was all by himself.”
Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old civilian contractor, is suspected of killing 12 people before he was shot dead by police.
Grant, an IT technician who works in network support at the Navy Yard, described the scene as civilians and military first heard the gunfire.
“I heard the first two shots while I was in the atrium near the cafeteria where I saw my blind colleague also,” Grant said. “After we heard the first two shots, we were wondering where the noise came from because sound echoes and travels there in an atrium area. You go up from the first floor of the building all the way up to the fifth floor. I proceeded to take his arm and led him into the cafeteria, and people started wondering as they also heard gunshots.
“We heard three more shots while we were inside the cafeteria and then we saw the alarms go off to evacuate the building.”
U.S. Navy Commander Tim Jirus was warned about the danger by a stranger.
“He came up behind us and was talking to me, basically saying, ‘Hey, there’s a shooter in your building,’’’ Jirus told TODAY. “Then I heard two more shots, one of them hit him, he went down in front of me, and then I took off from there.”
Alexis was an employee of “The Experts,” a subcontractor to a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy/Marine Corps intranet network, according to Hewlett-Packard spokesperson Michael Thacker.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic events at the Washington Navy Yard,” Hewlett-Packard said in a statement. “Our thoughts and sympathies are with all those who have been affected. Aaron Alexis was an employee of a company called ‘The Experts,’ a subcontractor to an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) network. HP is cooperating fully with law enforcement as requested.”
Alexis had been suffering from paranoia, sleep disorder and hearing voices in his head, U.S. law enforcement officials told the Associated Press. He had been receiving treatment for his issues by the Veterans Administration since August, officials said on condition of anonymity.
In 2004, Alexis was arrested for allegedly shooting at a vehicle in a “black-out fueled by anger,” according to court records. His father told police that Alexis had “anger management problems” and was stressed from being “an active participant in rescue attempts of September 11th, 2001,” according to the arrest report.