Monday’s shooting rampage at the Navy Yard, when 13 people and the alleged gunman, Aaron Alexis of Ft. Worth, Texas, were killed, was yet another a stark and painful reminder for those of us who live, work and play in the “DMV” [District-Maryland-Virginia] region that we live at Ground Zero and tragedy can strike without whisper or warning.
DMV dwellers have been here before in this “Federal City” because we all know-somebody-who-knows-somebody directly or indirectly affected or somehow involved in the sudden gridlock, the motorcades, the protests, the marches, the marathons, the lockdowns, and the sniper’s shootings that frighten and plague us all too often.
On Monday I, too, was particularly concerned about a loved one, a cousin, LaT’Ssha Randall, s a Navy officer who I thought was stationed at the Navy Yard’s Naval Sea Systems Command center. Thankfully, she had been transferred to the Pentagon last summer but had just visited her former co-workers on the fourth floor of Building 197 Friday. Unfortunately, after a few distraught hours waiting news, she learned that two of her close civilian coworkers had been killed, Kathleen “Kathy” Gaarede and Vishnu “Kisan” Pandit; she also knew “friendly” Arthur Daniels, who often moved furniture.
The “always happy” Pandit had taught “Tisha” and her boss Indian etiquette before they travelled to the country last year, and last Friday, he gave her a present of Indian tea. “Especially in the military there is a feeling of family but there is a real closeness on the Yard,” she said. Tisha said she learned from another co-worker that Mr. Daniels was shot in the back pushing another co-worker into the elevator ahead of him.
Randy Kier, my student at the University of the District of Columbia Community College, sent his homework but left school because his NYC cousin had called to say his 69-year-old aunt was trapped in Building 197 at the Navy Yard. She survived but later learned that three of her friends did not. “She’s going to need counseling,” Kier said. He added that he is grateful that Navy personnel came to her home later and said civilian personnel would be receiving medical services at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
When I first saw “News Alert” about a shooting at the Navy Yard on Monday morning, I was rushing from my Virginia home to downtown D.C. to teach the first of three classes that day.
Then I received a frantic call from one student breathlessly informing me that she wouldn’t be coming to class because her children were on lockdown at one of six schools near the Navy Yard shuttered by the school system, and she was headed there. By the way, she said, one of the schools was near the campus. A second student, who lives in Southwest, sent me a text message that she was stuck on the #2 Metrobus and “It’s nuts over here; everything is shut down.” A third sent an email that read: “I live five minutes from [the Navy Yard]. I am so upset. The ironic thing is that I was supposed to go in that area this morning! This is a crazy world with some crazy people.”
Yet another student called to say she was on lockdown at Ft. Myer. And, one of my colleagues called to say, “I decided not to come into D.C. with all that mess.”
I kept going; I wanted to demonstrate that we are often called upon to face our fears and kick evil in the teeth just by having the courage to show up and persevere.
I grabbed my books, my purse, my water and my walking shoes and of course, my IPhone, the 911 emergency pack of all longtime DMVers. The normally congested highway was running like a speedway. I drove into an eerie, uncomfortable silence as several downtown streets were deserted.
Upon my arrival to a small but cheering crew, I discovered that only half my students were present. The rest spent the time debating why D.C. residents “shouldn’t have to live like this.”
But we have and we will, for all the perks we do enjoy in the nation’s eclectic capital.
By nightfall, flags were flying at half-staff all around the DMV. And, the gentrifying landscape where a new baseball stadium and luxury condominiums have replaced row houses, projects, warehouses and gay bars, the traditional Southwest community where the Navy Yard has stood sentinel for centuries is forever transformed by this shooter’s deadly bullets.
Veteran journalist Adrienne Washington writes weekly for the AFRO about relevant issues in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Send correspondence to her at [email protected]