'Shots fired' call at July 16 attack site causes huge response; no threat found

Chattanooga Police and SWAT respond to a shots fired call at the Navy Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center off of Amnicola Highway on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015.
Chattanooga Police and SWAT respond to a shots fired call at the Navy Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center off of Amnicola Highway on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015.

Almost four months after a lone gunman attacked the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway and killed five U.S. service members, the sound of a gunshot echoed there again Wednesday.

But the Marines inside the reserve center didn't feel threatened - the noise was away from the building.

"None of us felt like it was anything directed at us," said Marine Capt. Chris Cotton.

Still, both the Marines and someone nearby at Chattanooga State Community College called police to report the sound - sending dozens of Chattanooga police officers wailing to the site in bulletproof vests, toting assault rifles, once again responding to the report of "shots fired" at the reserve.

First responders blocked the entrance and members of the Chattanooga Police Department's SWAT team moved through the military complex with a police dog. Dozens of police cars lined the shoulder of Amnicola Highway and officers stood in tight circles not far from the memorials for the men who died July 16.

Ever since that day when Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, stalked through the center firing at service members, the possibility of another attack has been on many people's minds, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tim White, who used his personal weapon to shoot at Abdulazeez as he ran toward the building.

"We're OK, but I think we're on edge, and also obviously it was evident that the city of Chattanooga and CPD were on edge, as evidenced by the response this morning," White said Wednesday. "But it was really comforting to me, and the people who were there, to see how quickly CPD responded when they got the call. They responded en masse."

White was not there Wednesday morning, but said the center's security procedures have "significantly" changed since the July 16 attack.

"We've drilled quite a bit," he said. "I think the response [Wednesday] was a little more immediate because of what happened."

Police quickly determined there was no active shooter and no one was injured. Officers could not find anyone who actually saw a shooter and officers did not recover a weapon.

"We are responding, given the nature of the location, more robustly than we normally would," Chief Fred Fletcher said at 10:52 a.m., after emphasizing that there was no active shooter.

Many officers also responded to Chattanooga State, which went on lockdown at 10:33 a.m. Officials urged students on Twitter to stay inside and avoid hallways until the school lifted the lockdown at 12:47 p.m.

Fletcher said officers also responded to the military recruiting center on Lee Highway - where Abdulazeez began his attack on July 16 - as well as other undisclosed "at-risk" locations throughout the city.

All was quiet at the recruiting center during the incident Wednesday.

On average, police receive about six "shots fired" calls every day. Sometimes callers mistake fireworks or vehicle backfires for gunshots. Police can't say for sure whether someone fired a gun near the center on Wednesday.

But Cotton said he's still grateful for the quick and thorough response from law enforcement.

"I will say it again and again, nobody does it better than the Chattanooga Police Department," he said. "They're quick and they're very responsive."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

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