Survivor Recalls NAS Pensacola Terror Attack One Year Later

Dec 4, 2020

Credit U.S. Navy

It was one year ago Sunday when an armed Royal Saudi Air Force officer entered a classroom aboard NAS Pensacola, killing three sailors and wounding eight others

Navy Airman Ryan Blackwell was at his desk in the International Military Training Office checking in students when Lt. Mohammad Saeed Al-Shamrani — a flight student — opened fire around 6:40 a.m.

“[Al-Shamrani] was head-on; we were able to secure the office door,” said Blackwell.

“It was a glass-paned door; he was on the other side of the door and shot out the glass. We used the door as a buffer between us and him, so he did not step foot into the office.”

Despite being shot six times, Blackwell managed to remain “mentally composed.”

“A lot of my training throughout my life in the military was by trial by fire; so I had that kind of engraved in my DNA,” Blackwell said. “Knowing there was still a job to be done, and I was going to do my part to get that job done.”

The shooter was 8 to 10 feet from Blackwell and two colleagues in the office. It was a quick forewarning, he said, without much time to react.

“I got out of the office and then a female got out of the office and another male got out of the office; we were out there and I relied on my training to apply first aid and extract a ride to get us help that we needed,” said Blackwell. “Once arriving at the front gate there was a police officer who was shot. I rode in the back of a cop car with him to the hospital." 

Ryan Blackwell
Credit Courtesy photo

Blackwell realized he had been shot; but only later did he learn just how badly he was hurt.

“As the shooting subsided, I thought I had only received two gunshot wounds; during the time the shooter had covered, my body had more gunshot wounds, totaling six,” said Blackwell.

Despite his wounds and the chaos surrounding him, Blackwell was able to devise an escape plan and put it into action.

“Once I exited the building, making a phone call, establish a ride, getting to the front gate,” Blackwell said. “I got shot at 6:46 in the morning; I arrived at the hospital at 7:13. So it took me 27 minutes to improvise a plan and act on it. Like I said, I was trained in this kind of muscle memory.”

Al-Shamrani was shot and killed by Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies responding to the call.

A 260-page report found that the prime cause for the attack was what it called Al-Shamrani’s “self-radicalization.” His actions and behavior, combined with the organizational environment inherent in military aviation, “likely increased his probability of committing an insider attack.”

In Part-2, Ryan Blackwell’s return to civilian life and a new business – inspired by his time as both a sailor and a wrestler.