FBI Investigating Pensacola Shooting

Dec 7, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The FBI is investigating that deadly shooting at a military base in Florida. Officials say the gunman who opened fire yesterday was a member of the Saudi Air Force who was training at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Four people were killed, including the shooter, who was killed by sheriff's deputies. Eight other people were wounded in the attack.

NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us. Debbie, thanks for being with us.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Oh, thank you.

SIMON: What is the latest we know about the investigation and the gunman?

ELLIOTT: Well, federal investigators were on scene overnight collecting evidence. But officials say they're not really ready to identify the gunman yet or provide too many details of exactly what happened. In a briefing last night, FBI Special Agent in Charge Rachel Rojas asked for patience.

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RACHEL ROJAS: We are not prepared at this hour to confirm what may have motivated the shooter to commit this horrific act today. There are many reports circulating, but the FBI deals only in facts. And this is still very much an active and ongoing investigation.

ELLIOTT: Now, earlier yesterday, the base commander and state officials did confirm that the gunman was an aviation student from Saudi Arabia, one of about 200 foreign students part of allied forces who regularly train at Naval Air Station Pensacola. They say he had a handgun even though guns are prohibited on base.

SIMON: In addition, obviously, to great human sorrow at the loss of lives, what about the public reaction there in Florida to the event?

ELLIOTT: You know, some are calling this an act of terrorism, including Florida Senator Rick Scott and Congressman Matt Gaetz of Pensacola. They, along with Florida's other senator, Marco Rubio, are calling for a reexamination of how military personnel are vetted for training at military bases when they come from, you know, foreign countries. Gaetz says somehow, safety protocols broke down here.

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MATT GAETZ: This event demonstrates a serious failure in the vetting process and in the way in which we invite these people to our community.

ELLIOTT: Now, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis said the Saudi government owes a debt to the victims of yesterday's shooting.

SIMON: The investigation, of course, is ongoing. And I wonder how that affects the everyday business that needs to be done at Naval Air Station Pensacola and how that's affecting morale there.

ELLIOTT: Well, the base was really shut down yesterday. It was late in the evening before essential personnel and people who live there were allowed back on and the people who had been sheltered in place all day were allowed to leave. That was a big relief for Lucy Beavan (ph), a mother of four whose husband is in the Navy Reserves. He's OK. He had called her with the news of the active shooter and to tell the kids that he loved them early Friday in the dawn hours. She called it the scariest call in their military career.

LUCY BEAVAN: I would've never thought that something like that - especially on a military base, you would never think. It just definitely makes you take a step back and realize that even your military bases aren't as safe as you think that they would be. It's sad.

ELLIOTT: Now, this happened just a couple of days after another fatal shooting on a Navy base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii earlier this week, so it's been a rough week for the Navy. They have set up a family assistance center there at NAS Pensacola.

SIMON: NPR's Debbie Elliott, thanks so much.

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