(CNN) -- Three US Navy sailors were killed when they "didn't run from danger" after a gunman opened fire at a US Navy base in Florida, US Navy officials said.
"When confronted ... they ran towards it and saved lives. If not for their actions, and the actions of the Naval Security Force that were the first responders on the scene, this incident could have been far worse," said Capt. Tim Kinsella, the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The sailors were Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Florida; Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Georgia; and Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, from Enterprise, Alabama.
A Saudi Arabian Air Force officer who was in flight training at the Pensacola base killed three people and injured eight others Friday morning in a classroom building, officials said. The shooter was killed.
Watson's death a 'tremendous blow' to hometown
Watson was a former US Naval Academy athlete who said he was looking forward to becoming a military pilot.
"My youngest brother gave his life for his country in a senseless shooting," his brother, Adam Watson wrote in a Facebook post.
Watson wrote. "We are beyond proud, but there is a (hole) in our hearts that can never be filled."
Kaleb Watson's move to Pensacola was relatively fresh. Watson was a senior at the US Naval Academy last spring and was a four-year member of the school's NCAA rifle team.
In a January interview, he said he'd been chosen to train as a pilot and was to start flight school in Pensacola after Naval Academy graduation. He aimed to "get through flight school and maybe go fly jets," he said in the interview posted on the Navy athletics YouTube channel.
"That'd be pretty cool," he said.
"The Enterprise community suffered a tremendous blow Friday upon hearing of the death of one of our own, Joshua Watson," the town's mayor, Bill Cooper, said in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WDHN.
Cooper said he asked Alabama's governor to declare flags in the state be flown at half-staff in Watson's honor.
Watson was a captain of the Navy rifle team that went to the NCAA tournament in 2019's spring semester.
In a second Navy athletics interview, posted on YouTube in March, Watson credited his interest in the sport — and ultimately the Naval Academy — to an injury he suffered early in high school.
"I was a football player back at my high school, and I had an injury, and I couldn't do another physical sport for about the next year," he said. "And I thought, well, my high school is three years, so I was like, 'If I'm going to do a sport, I want to stick with it all three years.'"
"(I said), 'Oh, rifle looks cool.' So, joined the JROTC program, joined the (high school) rifle team, and going through that, I learned about the (US Naval) Academy and shooting at the Academy."
Father of Navy sailor calls shooting 'heartbreaking'
Sameh Haitham, the father of Mohammed Sameh Haitham, told CNN his son "was an exceptional kid."
Haitham was a student at Naval Aviation Schools Command, according to information released by the US Navy.
In an email to CNN, Haitham said his son was "very kind and fun to be around."
The 19-year-old was an "all-star athlete" who took part in running and basketball before joining the Navy.
"I thought he'd attend college and play professionally, until he told us that he wanted to join the Navy," his father said.
Haitham called the situation "heartbreaking" and said his son "will truly be missed by many."
Victim had just arrived at NAS Pensacola
The third sailor killed, Cameron Scott Walters, enlisted in September, according to records from the US Navy. He reported for duty as a student at Naval Aviation Schools Command at NAS Pensacola on November 24, 12 days before he died.
Walters was from Richmond Hill, a small town of about 13,000 south of Savannah near the Georgia coast.
"The City of Richmond Hill feels the loss profoundly of these three sailors and grieves with the family and friends of the deceased," according to a post on the city's Facebook page. "We ask our community to come together for Cameron's family, to mourn and remember him, and to pay tribute to his sacrifice. We will forever be grateful for his courage and heroism."
Walters graduated from Effingham County High School, CNN affiliate WTOC reported.
™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.