WASHINGTON NAVY YARD – Ten years ago, Jay Stefany was running late to work. It was never unusual for Stefany to run a couple of minutes behind, but on Sept. 16, 2013, those few minutes could have saved his life.
As Stefany approached the M Street Gate to the Washington Navy Yard, guards were closing the gates, preventing Stefany from heading to his office at Naval Sea Systems Command in Building 197. Stefany, who now serves as the acting assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, was stuck in between a police perimeter and the gate.
Retired Vice Adm. Willy Hilarides, who served as commander of Naval Sea Systems Command in 2013, was in his office on the fourth floor of Building 197 when at 8:16 a.m. an independent contractor began opening fire at employees in the NAVSEA building. The shooter started near Hilarides’ office, killing 12 people before the police killed him in a shootout, according to a Navy report on the shooting. Lindsay Webster, who works for the command, was on the third floor of the building.
Michael Arnold. Arthur Daniels. Kathleen Gaarde. Mary Knight. Vishnu Pandit. Gerald Read. Martin Bodrog. Sylvia Frasier. John Johnson. Frank Kohler. Kenneth Proctor. Richard Ridgell.
Saturday marks the 10-year anniversary of the Navy Yard shooting. A group of employees, family members and Navy officials gathered in front of Building 197, now known as the Humphreys Building, on Friday to remember the lives lost. A bell rang out as NAVSEA Executive Director Giao Phan read each of the names of the fallen.
The Navy made a promise to the families that they would never forget them or the day, Hilarides told reporters following the remembrance ceremony. Holding a service each year is one way the Navy keeps that promise, he said. Another is the memorial inside of the Humphreys Building.
Four of the 12 families were at the ceremony on Friday. The Navy reached out to the other eight, who could not or chose not to attend.
Healing happens when people come together, Hilarides told reporters. That’s another reason why NAVSEA holds the ceremony each year.
On that day in 2013, calls to 911 started a minute and a half after the shooting began. Security guards came in and barricaded Hilarides and 12 others in the office for about two hours. At one point, Hilarides walked to the window and could see the SWAT teams outside.
Eight people were killed on the fourth floor before the shooter went down to the third floor, where Webster worked.
She told reporters that she came face-to-face with the shooter multiple times that morning. Ten years may have passed since the shooting, but the survivors and the families of victims and survivors are still healing, she said.
“We live with this every single day,” Webster told reporters. “It’s not just 10 years ago or on the one-year mark or the five-year mark, it’s every single day. And we grow together and work together.”
Webster wants the conversation to focus on survivors of the shooting rather than victims. No matter where a person might have been on that day, they still carry scars, she said.
Stefany was stuck between the gates and the police line, but he did what he could, he told the audience at the ceremony. He contacted his team on the third floor and acted as a communication intermediary between the responders and his team.
“For many of us here today, it seems like forever ago,” Stefany said. “And yet at the same time, it feels like it was just yesterday. All of us have our own experiences from that day and from the months and the years that have followed. Experiences of fear and pain, of grief and of healing.”
The Navy continues to be inspired by the strength of NAVSEA who continue to show up every day and do its job for the Navy, Adm. Lisa Franchetti, currently performing the duties of the chief of naval operations while also serving as vice chief of naval operations, said Friday.
“And although 10 years have passed, we still carry the sadness of that day in our hearts,” Franchetti said. “We will never be whole without our teammates, Michael, Kathy, John, Arthur, Richard, Martin, Kenneth, Mary, Gerald, Vishnu, Sylvia and Frank. Though we are inspired by their memory to continue the work they supported and build the Navy that our nation needs.”