All-clear at Washington Navy Yard after shooting scare

The Navy Yard was the scene of a September 2013 shooting that saw a lone gunman fatally shoot 12 people.
The Navy Yard was the scene of a September 2013 shooting that saw a lone gunman fatally shoot 12 people.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US Navy installation in Washington was given the all-clear Thursday after a tense lockdown and search for several hours over reports of a possible shooting, authorities said.

The Navy said there was “no sign of shooting” at the sprawling Navy Yard – scene of a 2013 mass killing in which 12 people died – and that all personnel were fine after a building-to-building search.

“We understand that an employee at the Navy Yard, shortly after 7.29am, reported that she may have heard gunshots in the facility,” city Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters.

“At this time, there is no evidence of gunshots. There is no evidence of a shooter and there’s no evidence of any victims today.”

The Navy Yard, a gated complex of naval offices in southeast Washington, was the scene of a September 2013 mass killing in which a lone gunman fatally shot 12 people before being killed himself by police.

Thursday’s lockdown – which forced police to seal off several city blocks – came amid security jitters as the United States braces for the July 4 Independence Day holiday, with major festivities planned in the capital.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Centre have warned the public of an increased risk of attack during the long Fourth of July weekend.

‘NOT A HOAX’

Washington’s city police chief Cathy Lanier said the woman who called in the shooting report was in a Navy Yard office at the time.

“The person who made the call heard what she thought may have been gunshots and she made a call, which is what employees here are trained to do,” Lanier said.

“We have no concerns that this was a hoax whatsoever.”

Multiple law enforcement agencies converged on the Navy Yard when the lockdown was declared at around 7.45am.

Military and civilian workers streamed out of the Navy Yard with hands in the air, after receiving orders to evacuate or take shelter in place.

“We heard someone scream, ‘Get out of the building, stay away from the cafeteria’ and we saw everyone running for the exits or adjoining offices,” Lieutenant Commander Scott Williams said on CNN.

But, like other witnesses, Williams said he heard no shots or saw any signs of a struggle.

Police sealed off several blocks immediately surrounding the Navy Yard as three helicopters and a fixed-wing surveillance plane circled in the grey skies above.

Todd Parker, who worked on the fifth floor of the building where the 2013 shootings unfolded, said he and his colleagues locked themselves in their office.

“About a half hour later we heard police, law enforcement coming through, banged on the door, ‘Police, open up,’ guns drawn, hands up,” he told CNN.

“A lot of law enforcement (were) in the building escorting us out.”

‘WELL-COORDINATED RESPONSE'

During the lockdown, authorities stepped up security outside the White House, closing the pedestrian mall that runs along Pennsylvania Avenue and the adjoining Lafayette Square.

The Navy sent out a stream of Twitter messages throughout the incident, advising people to “shelter in place” while stressing no “incident can be confirmed as of yet.”

Lanier praised the “well-coordinated” response between multiple law enforcement agencies, as compared to the 2013 operation, which some criticised as insufficient.

“This turned out to be a great exercise” to see if changes in procedure implemented in the past two years are working, she said.