WASHINGTON — Some heard a volley of shots as they went about their morning routines. Others heard the fire alarms and thought it was just a drill. Many were still commuting to work when they received e-mails and alerts telling them to stay away.
Chaos and fear consumed the Washington Navy Yard on Monday morning as employees fled from buildings or locked themselves in offices and closets. In a drizzling rain, they shared their experiences and bits of news, trying to piece together what had happened. They wondered whether they were safe.
Tim Jirus, a U.S. Navy commander, was working on the fourth floor of Building 197 when he heard two or three shots. It was distant, and he couldn't tell if it was real.
"I thought it was a guy with a cap gun," said Jirus, 48, who lives in the Dupont Circle area.
Suddenly, people ran through the cubicles, shouting, "Get out!" The fire alarm went off. He said he remained calm and joined colleagues who were filing out of the building.
As he was walking outside, he saw a co-worker being loaded into a police car. He was told by colleagues that the man had been shot. Then he heard more shots.
By about 8:45 a.m., Jirus stood in an alley near his building and talked with a civilian about what was unfolding. Then came the sound of two more gunshots — very loud, because they were echoing off the alley. Jirus looked toward the direction of the sound, then looked down: The other man had fallen to the ground, shot in the head.
Jirus said he didn't know whether the shooter was on the roof or if there was an open door behind him, but he knew the other man was dead, and he was terrified. He ran, seeing security officers arrive at the northern end of the alley and sheltering behind police cars.
"I was running for my life," he said.
He sprinted behind a maintenance building and quickly scaled a tall black metal fence, avoiding the spikes at the top and thankful that it didn't have razor wire. He kept going.
"I was just lucky," he said. "The other person was shorter than me. There were two shots, he got that guy. He didn't get me."
"The randomness of it - standing right next to me, one person gets shot," Jirus said.
Patricia Ward, a Navy logistics management specialist, said that she was at an ATM machine in the first floor atrium of Building 197, where the Naval Sea Systems Command is located, when she heard loud, short explosions coming from a few floors above the open lobby. She and her two companions, who were on their way to breakfast, exchanged glances.
One of Ward's friends started to ask: "Was that a gunshot?" But she was interrupted by the sounds of "BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM," Ward said.
"We knew it then," Ward said. "We just started running."
A security guard on the sidewalk, her gun drawn, told them to keep running. Five blocks away, Ward waited in the drizzle for news of her co-workers. She called her manager, who told her to make her way home to Woodbridge, Va., even though her purse, phone and other belongings were still at her desk.