More than 1,000 attend interfaith memorial service for slain Marines

More than 1,000 attend interfaith memorial service for slain Marines

New details emerge in slaying of four Chattanooga Marines

July 17th, 2015 by Staff Reports in Local Regional News

Supporters gather for an interfaith vigil at Olivet Baptist Church held in remembrance of victims of the July, 16 shootings on Friday, July 17, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The vigil was held one day after gunman Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez shot and killed four U.S. Marines and wounded two others and a Chattanooga police officer at the Naval Operational Support Center on Amnicola Highway shortly after firing into the Armed Forces Career Center on Lee Highway.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

All of the new details we learned today about the attacks at Chattanooga's military facilities were compiled here.

* A Muslim psychiatrist says he and others in Chattanooga's Muslim community are mourning the deaths of four Marines fatally shot by a man who attended the local mosque.

* Two friends of Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez say they spoke to him within days of the attack, and that he appeared upbeat and excited about his future at a new job.

* The remains of the Marines who were killed in the Chattanooga attacks will be treated with the same ceremonial honors as Marines killed in military action, a Marine Corps spokesman told the Times Free Press Friday.

* DesJarlais plans bill allowing qualified military personnel to carry sidearms at military installations.

* The Army says security at recruiting posts will be reviewed.

* Sources tell the Tennessean that the suspect worked at Superior Essex Inc. in Franklin, Tenn., as a supervisor.

* He also worked at TVA as a student intern, and at a nuclear power plant in Ohio for 10 days before failing a background check.

* Governor has ordered flags over the state capitol and all state office buildings to be flown at half-staff .

* One of four Marines killed in Chattanooga has been identified as 40-year-old Thomas J. Sullivan, according to MassLive.com.

* The Second Marine has been reported by CBS46 in Atlanta to be Skip Wells, a Marine from Atlanta.  He was 21. 

* The third Marine identified was David Wyatt of Chattanooga, according to the Tennessean. 

* The fourth Marine is Carson Holmquist, who was raised in Grantsburg. 

* A U.S. official told the Associated Press that Abdulazeez was in Jordan last year for months, which is being looked at as part of the terrorism investigation.

* Former coach Almir Dizdarevic tells CNN he heard that his former athlete moved out of the USA to spend time in the Middle East a year or so ago. 

* Jihadist investigators said Abdulazeez had a blog where he discussed his religious beliefs.

* The Tennessee Riverpark from the CB Robinson Bridge to the west entrance across from the Coca-Cola plant will be closed to the public today as the FBI Investigation continues. This closure includes the playground and Fry Center. The public is encouraged to access the open section of the Riverpark from the Riverpoint entrance, which is near the BASF plant.

* Chattanooga Police Chief said there have been no credible retaliatory threats against any community in the wake of Thursday's attacks. Still, Fletcher said, if anyone feels threatened they should contact the police department or call 911. 

Gallery: After the attacks on Chattanooga military facilities

+18
more photos

Gallery: 'Nightmare for our city'

+19
more photos

Gallery: Chattanoogans gather at prayer vigil after recruiting center shootings

+8
more photos

Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez was booked as Mohammad Youssduf Adbulazeer

Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez was booked as Mohammad Youssduf...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Prayer vigils

* At UTC, the Student Veterans Organization is holding a vigil on campus at 9 a.m. today at the Fifth Street flagpole, open to all the public.

* The Bessie Smith Cultural Center will be hosting a prayer vigil on the lawn of the center today at 5:30 p.m. to pray for the City of Chattanooga.

* Olivet Baptist Church will have an interfaith prayer vigil at  5:30 p.m.

Amnicola Highway shooting

35.092836, -85.256546
Directions To | Directions From
  

Lee highway shooting

6219 Lee Highway
Directions To | Directions From

As Chattanooga mourned, hundreds gathered Friday night at the historic black church, Olivet Baptist Church, downtown to pray and to remind each other that the community will survive.

"We are Chattanooga strong. We are Chattanooga strong. We are Chattanooga strong," Paul Smith, the city's public safety coordinator, told the crowd.

Many pastors across faiths prayed. 

"Even though it seems like we're going through our worst time we believe that you will transform it into our finest hour," prayed Pastor Kevin Adams. "We thank you that the people of God have come together and we will pray like we have never prayed before ... Love will always outdo evil."

One of the last to speak was a representative from the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga.
"In the name of God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad it is not easy for me to speak after a loss so tragic and so close to him," he said. "For inspiration, I look to the marines who laid down their lives yesterday."

Together, they held one another close and mourned the attack in which a 24-year-old man killed four U.S. Marines and wounded another military member and a police officer in shootings at a military recruitment center and a Navy and Marine reserve center Thursday morning.

"Somebody brutally and brazenly attacked members of our armed services," Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said.

Though officials declined to reveal the names of the victims, the identities of those shot and killed began to emerge soon after the disaster. All four Marines have been identified:  40-year-old Thomas J. Sullivan, of Massachusetts; Skip Wells, a 21-year-old Marine from Atlanta, Carson Holmquist, from Grantsburg, and David Wyatt of Chattanooga.

Sullivan, of Springfield, survived two tours in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart, according to the Boston Globe. 

Wells was a 2012 graduate of Sprayberry High School in Cobb County, and attended Georgia Southern for one year in 2013. 

A memorial service for Wyatt, the first Marine to be identified as a Chattanooga native, was held Friday morning.

Carson Holmquist, a Marine who was raised in Grantsburg, was revealed Friday afternoon as the fourth Marine who was killed. 

Chattanooga Police Officer Dennis Pedigo, was shot in the ankle and was listed in stable condition. 

The gunman, identified as Hixson resident Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was killed.

United States Attorney Bill Killian initially said the attack was being investigated as "an act of domestic terrorism," but later said it was too early in the investigation for such a label.

A federal law enforcement official said Friday that authorities were continuing a search of his computer, but had not found an extensive online presence and had not uncovered evidence suggesting he was directly inspired by the Islamic State. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly since the investigation was still ongoing.

The official Kuwait News Agency on Friday quoted the Interior Ministry as saying that while Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait, he was of Jordanian origin. The report also said he traveled to Kuwait and Jordan in the spring of 2010.

A U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity said that Abdulazeez was in Jordan last year for months, and that those travels and anyone he met with are being looked at as part of the terrorism investigation.

He was conditionally hired as an engineer at the Perry nuclear power plant near Cleveland, Ohio, and spent 10 days there before he was let go in May 2013 because he failed a background check, said Todd Schneider, a FirstEnergy Corp. spokesman. Schneider would not say why, according to the Associated Press. 

"He worked in an administrative building," Schneider said. "He was never allowed in the protected area of the plant near the reactor."

He also worked as an intern for TVA in 2009 to 2010, but the agency will not say what duties he performed. 

Divorce filings show that the shooter came from a troubled, violent home.

In a divorce complaint filed in Hamilton County Chancery Court, Rasmia Ibrahim Abdulazeez alleged that Abdulazeez's father, her husband, beat and verbally abused his wife in front of his children.

Yet despite the circumstantial evidence, it remains unclear what motivated the brutal attack. 

Within minutes after the shootings began around 10:45 a.m. the Lee Highway and Amnicola Highway areas were fully locked down as hundreds of law enforcement vehicles descended upon the scene and ambulances careened towards the hospital. Federal and state officials later praised the "magnificent" and "extraordinary" response during a briefing for Gov. Bill Haslam in Chattanooga.

By Thursday's end, hundreds of federal agents had been dispatched to the city as the Federal Bureau of Investigation took the lead in the investigation, said Ed Reinhold, special agent in charge.

President Barack Obama called the shooting a "heartbreaking circumstance" and promised a thorough and prompt investigation into the attack.

Federal officials said that Abdulazeez, a Red Bank High School boxer and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga engineering graduate, had not been on their radar before the attack.

The FBI reported Abdulazeez was armed with multiple weapons when he opened fire at a U.S. military recruiting center on Lee Highway. Witnesses said he fired many rounds from a high-powered rifle.

He then drove a silver Ford Mustang convertible to the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway near the Tennessee Riverpark, where he killed four Marines, according to authorities.

During the attack on Amnicola Highway, numerous Chattanooga and Hamilton County officers "actively and enthusiastically" engaged the suspect, Fletcher said.

Reinhold would not say whether Abdulazeez died by his own hand or was killed by law enforcement, but he did say officers "were able to neutralize the threat."

Fletcher said Chattanooga police officers "saved lives today."

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said that "it is incomprehensible to see what happened and the way that individuals who proudly serve our country were treated."

Victims were rushed to Erlanger, where police officers put the hospital on lockdown. Shortly after the shooting, there were more than half a dozen police cars with lights flashing, and ambulances arrived one after another.

Police officers at Erlanger guarded the door with high-powered rifles. Family members arrived later and were escorted inside by other police officers, who put their arms around the women.

Erlanger's CEO, Kevin Spiegel, said the hospital was on lockdown "so that we could actively manage the disaster."

Later that afternoon, law enforcement surrounded and searched Abdulazeez's home in Hixson. Though officials removed media from the area, The Associated Press reported that two women were later led away from the home.

SCENES OF PANIC

A normal workday for many Chattanoogans swiftly turned to bedlam as the shootings began.

Bobby Gray dropped his son, Nicholas, off at the Lee Highway military recruiting office a little after 10:30 a.m. to sign up for the Air Force.

Less than an hour later, Gray answered a call from his son.

"Hey, I don't know if you've heard, I'm fine," Nicholas said.

Nicholas told his dad he was sitting at the recruiting desk when the shooting started. An Air Force recruiter started to shout and helped everyone through a back door, where they huddled in a storage unit.

Two Marines ran out the front door after the shooter, trying to stop him, but he sped away.

When Gray walked back inside the building, there was a bullet lodged in his camouflage backpack.

"I'm just relieved he's OK," Bobby Gray said of his son.

Multiple witnesses at the Lee Highway site said the driver sprayed bullets into at least four of the five branches of the military's offices before he zoomed away.

Keegan Green, who was laying down mulch across the street at McDonald's, said he saw the shooter unload two clips, never leaving his car. When Green ran across the highway to see if anyone was hurt, the shooter sped away toward Highway 153.

"I'm CPR-certified and I wanted to check to see if anyone was hurt," he said.

Chloe Carter was handing an order out of the McDonald's drive-through window when she heard what sounded like hammers banging. She looked up and saw screaming people running out of businesses across the street.

"I've never seen anything like this," she said.

Keith Wheatley, the property manager of the recruiting center building, said he arrived about five minutes after the shooter left.

When he walked inside he said, "It looked like a TV set."

Bullets were lodged in the walls and in television sets, he said. Four of the five branches of military offices located at the recruiting center had been shot at.

"It was obvious that they were intentionally shooting at all five branches of the military."

At Carquest Auto Parts downhill from the U.S. Army Recruiting Office, counter salesman Fred Wright said he heard the shots, then saw recruiting office personnel come running.

"All of them starting running through the brush and the briars," Wright said. "One of them was yelling, 'Call 911, someone's shooting at us.'"

Workers reported similar scenes around Amnicola Highway as police filled the area and barricaded off a long stretch of the road.

The Marines were killed at the Navy Operational Support Center, often referred to as a "reserve center." The center is home of Battery M, 14th Marines, known as Mike Battery.

It's used by both Navy and Marine personnel to provide training and readiness support for reserve components to support the services. The Navy maintains 123 such facilities across the United States and its territories, according to The Associated Press.

Mike Battery members have deployed three times for service in the Iraq war. During its first deployment, 2004-05, members took part in the Battle of Fallujah, and members deployed stateside to provide aid in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The troops were unarmed. A day after the gunman attacked the unit, Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, told reporters that arming troops in those offices could cause more problems than it might solve.

"I think we have to be careful about over-arming ourselves, and I'm not talking about where you end up attacking each other," Odierno said during a morning breakfast. Instead, he said, it's more about "accidental discharges and everything else that goes along with having weapons that are loaded that causes injuries."

Carolyn Taylor, who works at Binswanger Glass across Amnicola Highway from the incident site, said she heard what sounded like over 100 gunshots.

"It was eight, 10 rounds at a time," she said. "Several people were shooting."

Taylor said the police arrived and took the employees behind the building.

Chattanooga State Community College, which is down the road from the shooting on Amnicola, was also on lockdown for much of the day.

Police from throughout the region were soon lining the road, blocking off highway exits and diverting traffic. Police vehicles passed through the barricade for hours, some with sirens and lights blaring and others quiet and unmarked. Ambulances came and went.

Lorna Wright arrived at the barricaded intersection of Riverside Drive and Wilcox Boulevard just after noon on Thursday to find her way north blocked. Waved away toward Wilcox Boulevard, Wright pulled over.

Wright's 20-year-old daughter, Lorna Wright Jr., is a manager at the Amnicola Highway Mapco Express, and was the manager on duty when — only two miles away — Abdulazeez opened fire at the U.S. Naval Reserve office.

"She called me," said Wright. "She was scared. She called her dad."

Eventually, Lorna Wright Jr., in her bright green Mapco Express employee shirt, came into view. Mother and daughter embraced near the orange cones blocking off the highway.

Bradley Square Mall in Cleveland, which also has a recruiting office, was also locked down after a "shots fired" call. However, police cleared the mall shortly before 2 p.m., saying all was clear.

A no-fly zone was declared over the crime scene Thursday morning.

INVESTIGATION INTO MOTIVE

Reinhold said the agency's decision to designate the attack as either terrorism or a criminal act would come down to a "determination of the motivation."

"We are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism, domestic or international, or whether it was a simple criminal act," he said

"We'll do an intense look at him to see what his connections are and look at his friends, family and associates — anybody who is associated with him — to determine the reasons why he did this attack."

Reinhold said while Abdulazeez was the sole shooter, they had not ruled out accomplices.

Friends and acquaintances of the Abdulazeez family say they were practicing Muslims in Chattanooga, though officials did not say whether any radical religious beliefs influenced him.

On Thursday, Bassam Issa, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, condemned the act "in the strongest possible terms as one of cowardice and hate.

"We don't see our community center as a 'Muslim' community; we are Chattanoogans first, and we see ourselves as part of the larger community of Tennesseans grieving today's act," Issa said.

GRIEVING BEGINS

As evening fell, vigils and makeshift memorials popped up around the city as Chattanoogans grieved the fallen.

Killian called the event "a sad day for the United States" and added, "These service members served their country with pride, and they have been the victims of these shootings."

Haslam called the situation a "tragedy" and "sickening." Later Thursday he came to Chattanooga for a briefing that included members of the local legislative delegation.

Later Thursday, a fellow Marine mourned the loss of his comrades in arms.

Arthur Shaylitsa, a member of "Mike Battery," has been a Marine for one year.

His family emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine. "We came to this nation with nothing. I just wanted to give back," he said.

Shaylitsa is sure he knows the names of the fellow Marines who died. He trained with them at the operations center on Amnicola Highway, remembering traveling in convoy to Fort Maclellan, Ala., for training and artillery practice.

"The fact that it happened, I've been tearing up all day. We have a tight-knit group. We have a great bond," Shaylitsa said.

He said his unit had been warned to be on a "heightened state of alertness" earlier in the spring.

Normally, he added, "we'd wear the uniform with pride," but since the warning, "I try to be careful what I wear out in public."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Staff writers Joy Lukachick Smith, Alex Green, Joan Garrett McClane, Ellis Smith and Mike Pare contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Kate Belz at kbelz@times freepress.com.

Live Blog Minute-by-minute coverage of the Chattanooga shooting
 

Loading...