Navy Yard scare comes during heightened alert for possible terrorist attack

Posted at 2:21 PM, Jul 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-02 15:37:23-04

With the nation under high alert for a possible terrorist attack heading into the July 4th weekend, a 911 call reporting a possible active shooter at the Washington Navy Yard drew an overwhelming police response early Thursday morning.

The call, which turned out to be a false alarm, comes at the same time the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security are urging people to be extra vigilant. The Thursday scare also was a reminder of the horrific 2013 shooting at the Navy Yard that left 12 people dead.

The Navy Yard, located in Southeast Washington about a mile from the U.S. Capitol and three miles from the White House, went on lockdown shortly after 7:29 a.m. when the 911 call came in.

Multiple police agencies, including Homeland Security, the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the D.C. Metropolitan Police, descended on the installation. The force included SWAT teams and helicopters circling the area.

Officials emphasized that in light of the terrorism alert they continue to ask civilians to report anything they see or hear that feels odd to them, saying the person who made the emergency call did exactly what she should have done. 

They also dismissed any suspicion that the caller wanted to find out information about how police might respond.

“We don’t believe that [the 911 call] was a malicious hoax, or it has any relative play on a threat level,” Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said at a press conference.  “We take every threat here in Washington very serious, and it will continue through the Fourth.”

The “all clear,” which came shortly after 10 a.m., was a relief for many Navy Yard staff members who witnessed the deadly attack on Sept. 16, 2013, when Aaron Alexis, a tech contractor working at the Navy Yard, killed a dozen people and wounded eight others before being shot and killed by police. Building 197, where that shooting took place, was the focal point Thursday of an office-by-office search.

“I'm very proud of all of the officials that answered the call,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at the press conference. “We know that there has been a lot of lessons learned ... here at the Navy Yard. And we have found that there has been a clear coordinated and convincing response to this scene."

The Washington Navy Yard is the oldest shore establishment of the U.S.  Navy. It is home to the Chief of Naval Operations, and serves as an administrative center for many Navy and Marine Corps programs, including Naval Sea Systems Command, the Department of Naval History and Marine Corps Institute.

Angela M. Hill, Scripps National Investigative Producer, contributed to this story.