Ocean View resident Mike Jeffers is a retired civilian employee of the Department of the Navy who worked for the government for 40 years and spent several years working at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard, in Building 197.
“I worked within that building, Building 197. I knew and still know lots of people who work in that building,” said Jeffers this week.
On Sept. 16, Aaron Alexis — a subcontractor hired to to refresh the computer systems there — entered the Navy Yard, went to Building 197 and opened fire on many of those in the building, killing 12 and injuring eight.
“The shooting is just a terrible, appalling tragedy,” Jeffers said. “I didn’t find out for a few days but, fortunately, none of those colleagues were killed. However, one person I know very well was injured.
“It was very distressing to know that something like that could happen in a place like the Navy Yard. It would never cross your mind to expect something like that. It’s quite disturbing. I’m sure it’s even more distressing for the folks who still work there.”
Jeffers said armed guards are present in various locations around the yard, as well as at the entrances.
“The security, I would say, is largely credential-based,” he noted. “That’s why I knew almost immediately that it had to be someone who had credentials. They check everyone’s ID at the gate. You have to first have the right kind of credential to get through the gate. For the most part, it’s a military ID or common access card… Unfortunately, the shooter had the right credentials.”
He noted that security had been amped up at the Navy Yard since Sept. 11, 2001.
“That was the other harrowing day,” he recalled.
Alexis was new to the Navy Yard and had not been working there for years, but rather a number of days, working in a “temporary support function” to refresh the government’s computer systems.
“He was not what I would call an ‘indigenous person’ to the Navy Yard,” said Jeffers. “That makes me feel better, in a way. In another way, it makes me feel worse that someone from the outside was insufficiently vetted. But it makes me feel better that it was not performed by someone who worked in the Navy Yard over a long period of time for any of its primary functions… The person who did this was not one of us.”
Jeffers said that, architecturally, Building 197, where the shootings took place, is “quite interesting,”
“Essentially, it’s a new building that was built in and around a very old building,” he explained. “The Washington Navy Yard, for a good bit of its existence, was a gun factory, in part. Building 197 is built in and around one of the old buildings where they manufactured large guns 100 years ago.
“So they’ve preserved some of the features of the old building. So you’ll see as you walk through the building some very interesting features — big structural beams that say ‘Carnegie Steel’ on them. These are 125-year-old enormous strong, high beams.
“You’ll see some of the antique glass windows of the old building. It’s industrial green glass. There are all these interesting historical features that are mingled around very modern construction.”
He added that there are two large atriums in the building that are built around the run of very large 100-year-old bridge cranes that were used in part of the gun manufacturing process, which have been left in place as decorative features.
“It’s a very interesting building, and it’s a very nice pleasant office building. The atmosphere as I’ve been working there is busy and hardworking. Generally, people had a positive attitude.”
Jeffers said that it is unfortunate that such an event occurred, but he said that everyone must work to move forward.
“This is an unfortunate thing that happens. I think it’s a bit of trauma for anyone who has worked there for any bit of time. Life goes on. What are you going to do?” he said. “I think people there are dedicated to what they’re doing, working hard and working for their country. This won’t stop that from continuing.”
Jeffers had been inside Building 197 just two weeks prior to the shooting and said that, although his work has not taken him back yet, if called, he would return.
“If business calls me back there, I guess I’ll go. I assume that’s what the majority of my former colleagues working for the Department of the Navy and old friends — I’m sure that’s the attitude of most of them.”