FBI Investigation Into NAS Shooting Kicking Into High Gear

Dec 8, 2019

The main gate at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.
Credit U.S. Navy photo by Patrick Nichols

The FBI is working under the presumption that Friday’s shooting aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola was an act of terrorism, and that all international students are accounted for.

Larry Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, said at a Sunday news conference that the mindset among investigators in this case was galvanized by the heroics of the deputies who rushed into harm’s way to neutralize the threat.

“We want to salute Sheriff [David] Morgan and Chief Deputy [Chip] Simmons here today, for instilling the culture that resulted in those two folks at their office wading into that gunfire,” said Keefe. “It was a motivator and is still a motivator for us.”

“The shooter has been identified as a 21-year-old 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force, who was a student naval flight officer at Naval Aviation Schools Command,” said Rachel Rojas, FBI special agent in charge of the investigation. She also confirmed that 2nd. Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani used a legally purchased Glock 9mm handgun to kill three people and wound eight others in a base classroom before Escambia County deputies shot and killed him.

nsign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, from Coffee, Alabama. Ens. Watson was killed during an active shooter incident at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Dec. 6.
Credit U.S. Navy

Those fatally shot are identified as: Airman Mohammed Hotham of St. Petersburg, Florida; Ensign Joshua Watson of Coffee, Alabama, and Airman Apprentice Cameron Walters of Richmond Hill, Georgia. They were students at the Naval Aviation Schools Command.

All eight wounded in the attack – including two Escambia Deputies – are expected to recover. As of noon Monday, five have been released from Baptist Hospital; the others are listed in stable condition.

“Our main goal right now is to confirm whether [Alshamrani] acted alone, or was he part of a larger network,” said Rojas. “We currently assess there was one gunman who perpetrated this attack; and no arrests have been made in this case.”

Agents are in the process of interviewing witnesses; base personnel, and Alshamrani’s friends, classmates and associates. They’re also sifting through numerous reports about motive and the run-up to the attack. Rojas asks for patience during this time. 

“There are a number of Saudi students who are close to the shooter and continue to cooperate in this investigation,” Rojas said. “Their Saudi commanding officer has restricted them to base. And the Saudi government has pledged to fully cooperate with our investigation.”

In this case, says Rojas, investigators are acting under the presumption that this was an act of terrorism.

Airman Mohammad Sameh Haitham, 19, from St. Petersburg, Florida. Airman Haitham was killed during an active shooter incident at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Dec. 6.
Credit U.S. Navy

“This allows us to take advantage of investigative techniques that can help us more quickly identify and then eliminate any additional potential threats to the rest of our community,” said Rojas. “Our investigation has not led us to any information that indicates any credible threat to our community.”

Echoing Rojas was U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe.

“Knowing everything that I know – which include [sic] all of the intelligence apparatus and everything in the federal government without going into critical detail at this moment – the community is safe and there’s not any sort of immediate direct threat of any terrorist acts at this time.”

“This guy was somebody who had a deep-seeded hatred for the United States, and that was pretty clear from that – and obviously the fact that he would do something like this,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, who met with law enforcement and base officials on Sunday.

The Gov. added that he has a couple of questions he’d like the investigation to answer.

“Who else would have had knowledge who else was involved? Also what vetting takes place?” said DeSantis. “Not just on our end, but what type of vetting is done by the Saudi military and the Saudi government, to try to ferret out people who may end up having this type of worldview.”

DeSantis believes the program hosting and educating foreign military personnel will go under the Pentagon’s microscope. 

“I spoke with the, the president said they’re reviewing it; and have this individual be able to take out three of our sailors,” DeSantis said. “To me that’s unacceptable, and I think it could have been prevented with better vetting.” 

Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters was 21 years old when he was killed during a classroom shooting.
Credit City of Richmond Hill

There are reports that the attack may have been filmed, and that Alshamrani showed mass shooting videos at a dinner party beforehand. FBI Special Agent Rachel Rojas declined comment on both.

“There are a lot of answers that I’m not prepared to answer as we continue to investigate, said Rojas. “There are several students that are cooperating and providing information, and as we continue to vet those leads. I will provide that information as soon as soon as I can.”

Rojas did ask for the public’s help, to provide any information they may have, adding that no tip is too small.

“Anything you have, we will take every single tip seriously; and we encourage you to come forward,” Rojas said. “We have designated representatives on our tip line, which his 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324).” NAS Pensacola is reopening Monday to current holders of Department of Defense IDs.