It was a tragic day in Chattanooga.
Four Marines died here yesterday, possibly at the hands of a terrorist.
They died in Chattanooga, Tenn., not in Beirut, not in Kabul, but in their military recruiting office off Amnicola Highway.
They died, reportedly, at the hands of a man who has lived here all or much of his life — Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez. Abdulazeez died from gunshot wounds while clashing with police.
There were two attacks on military centers in separate parts of Chattanooga on Thursday. Witnesses said a single shooter, a white man driving a silver Ford Mustang convertible, began firing shots at 10:45 a.m. at the Lee Highway Army Recruiting Center. The shooter then led police on a chase to the Amnicola Highway Naval and Marine Reserve Center, where further shots were fired. Three other people were wounded, including a police officer.
The incident rocked this city to the core. It shouldn't have happened anywhere, but especially not here. At least that was what we were all saying to ourselves yesterday.
Yet there was Chattanooga, under the big "breaking news" banners on CNN and other cable news channels for hours on end.
U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said officials are probing the attacks as an act of domestic terrorism. Local, state and federal investigators are still working to understand exactly what happened. Was it an act of terrorism or just a criminal act of terror? Time will tell.
The alleged shooter was believed to have been born in Kuwait, a country the U.S. went to war with Iraq to defend.
He became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He graduated from UTC in 2012. He lived in Hixson. His father works in the Chattanooga Public Works Department. He went to Red Bank High School, and his senior picture in the yearbook carries this quote: "My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?" A woman who said she attended Red Bank High with the young man said he was a quiet kid, but well-liked.
"He was friendly, funny, kind," Kagan Wagner told a Times Free Press reporter. "I never would have thought it would be him. They were your average Chattanooga family."
That's a haunting statement. What it says to us is that if this was in fact a home-grown terrorist act, then anyone can become radicalized to violence, and radicalized to any extreme by any extreme group.
Dylann Roof, the shooter in the Charleston, S.C., massacre last month that left nine African-Americans dead, was also described as a quiet, nice kid — until he was radicalized by white supremacists.
As the Chattanooga story played out Thursday on news sites — including the Times Free Press website — commenters reminded us to pray for the families of the dead and injured, including the shooter's.
A prayer vigil was organized Thursday evening at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Brainerd Hills and another is planned today at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
Investigators aren't saying yet what the shooter's motive might have been.
But no matter what the investigation reveals, the shooting was truly tragic. We likely will never again be lulled to think of Chattanooga as a place where the unthinkable can't happen.
One thing is certain. We must follow Killian's final advice during Thursday's news conference: We — and all Chattanoogans — must be careful of labels, careful of stereotyping.
And we absolutely cannot succumb to the hate that fear breeds — no more than Charleston did.
Our city will heal. And Chattanoogans must help all of these families heal, as well.