Authorities Investigating A Shooting At The Naval Air Station In Pensacola, Fla.

Dec 6, 2019
Originally published on December 6, 2019 5:52 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Authorities are saying a Saudi national is responsible for a deadly shooting today at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. Four people are dead, including the gunman. Eight more are wounded. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been following developments there just outside the gates to the Naval Air Station. She joins us now.

Hey, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: So what do we know so far about who this gunman was?

ELLIOTT: We know very, very little other than that he was a member of the Saudi Air Force in aviation training at NAS Pensacola and the shooting happened in a classroom on base. Authorities are refusing to speculate on motive. They will not identify the gunman. All they will say is that he used a handgun. Base commander Captain Timothy Kinsella says handguns are not permitted on base. The shooter was killed by sheriff's deputies in what Kinsella called an act of heroism. Here's what he had to say about it.

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TIMOTHY KINSELLA: I mean, real heroism - I'm devastated. We are in shock. This is surreal. But I couldn't be prouder to wear the uniform that I wear because of my brothers and sisters in uniform, civilian or otherwise, that did what they did today to save lives.

ELLIOTT: You know, crediting a really quick response by sheriff's deputies...

CHANG: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: ...Once the shooting started early this morning. Now, just to recap, four people were killed, including the gunman. Another eight are wounded, including two Escambia County sheriff's deputies.

CHANG: You mentioned that the gunman was a member of the Saudi Air Force. How common is it for foreign nationals to train on U.S. naval bases?

ELLIOTT: You know, it is common. Foreign allies regularly train on U.S. bases. The commander here says NAS Pensacola has an international training service that's been active dating to at least World War II, when the Royal Air Force trained here. Kinsella said there are a couple of hundred international students right now on base and that the Saudi gunman was in what he called the aviation pipeline.

Naval Air Station Pensacola, we should remind people, is home to the Blue Angels. It's the primary training ground for all military flyers, whether they be Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine. It's a sprawling, very active base with more than 20,000 military and civilian personnel here.

CHANG: So I imagine the shooting is raising all kinds of questions about how exactly this happened on what was supposed to be a secure naval base. Have you heard anything about how the investigation is going so far?

ELLIOTT: You know, only we know that the FBI is taking the lead, along with other federal and state agencies participating. Now, some interpret that as an indication that this is considered an act of terrorism. That's how Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz of Pensacola sees it. And he says this incident represents what he calls, quote, "a failing in the vetting process" for the people who come into the country to train at military bases. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says he spoke with President Trump about this and wants to see the Saudi government held accountable.

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RON DESANTIS: One of the things that I talked to the president about is, given that this was a foreign national in the employ of a foreign service, is - and there'll be time to do this, but obviously, the government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims. And I think that they're going to owe a debt here given that this is one of their individuals.

ELLIOTT: Now, President Trump says he spoke with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who expressed his condolences and said that the Saudi people were, quote, "greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter."

CHANG: Before we let you go, you are standing there right outside the gates, or you have been. Can you just tell us - what does it look like there right now?

ELLIOTT: You know, access to the base was cut off for much of the day, but traffic is coming and going and picking up now. Only people who live on the base are allowed back, and those who work on base are now being able to leave based on areas. There are still a few family members gathered outside waiting for their loved ones to come out. It's been a day of anxiety for a lot of people here.

CHANG: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Pensacola, Fla.

Thank you, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.