Military personnel and workers walk along the perimeter of the Washington Navy Yard on Thursday. The Washington Navy Yard began returning to nearly normal operations three days after it was the scene of a mass shooting in which a gunman killed 12 people. (Charles Dharapak / AP)
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WASHINGTON — Some employees returning to work at the Washington Navy Yard Thursday said they felt it was too early to talk about the massacre earlier this week while others said it will take a while to put what happened behind them.
“I’d rather not be here today,” said Judy Farmer, a scheduler from Manassas, Va., one of those who returned to the red bricks of the Navy Yard for the first time since 12 people were gunned down Monday by a shooter who was killed by law enforcement.
The Navy installation re-opened at 6 a.m. for normal operations except the building where the shooting took place.
Bob Flynn, who hid in an office in Building 197 with four colleagues during the shooting, said it helped to be at work with them.
“I feel good because I got to see my co-workers that I went through this with,” Flynn said. “I get to hug people, and everybody gets the hugs and we get to talk about it and I think it’s going to be helpful.”
Flynn said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus met with them Thursday morning.
“He said, ‘If anybody has a problem, you call me,’ and he means it, and it’s just one big family and that’s why we’re going to be able to make it,” Flynn said.
Flynn recalled hiding with the lights out in a third-floor office, where one colleague called 911, another used a smart phone from under a desk so the light wouldn’t be visible and another put chairs against the door as 34-year-old Aaron Alexis fired in the building. Authorities say he was the lone shooter.
“It seemed like it lasted forever as we were hearing gunshots and not knowing what was going on,” Flynn said. “When they finally rescued us later, I had to walk over the body of a very dear friend of mine and, you know, that’s hard to get out of my head.”
Brooke Roberts, an engineer who works across the street from the building where the shooting happened, said returning was a bit surreal.
“You don’t think this sort of thing can happen to you at your workplace, so you’re just not prepared for it, regardless,” he said of the shooting as he walked by a blocked off gate he is accustomed to using to enter the Navy Yard. He described himself as feeling “still unsettled,” noting the blocked off entrance.
“It’s still not quite normal, and it probably won’t be for some time,” Roberts said.
Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty said Thursday will be a regular work day, except for Building 197, and the base gym, which is a staging area for the FBI to investigate the rampage carried out by the Navy reservist.
Barbara Smith said she was feeling apprehensive, walking toward the entrance.
“But, you know, I have to work, and I’m trusting that they’re taking care of what needs to be taken care of,” she said.
Law enforcement officials are still trying to determine a motive for the shooting. Officials have said Alexis was grappling with paranoia, hearing voices and convinced he was being followed. A month before the shootings, he complained to police in Rhode Island that people were talking to him through the walls and ceilings of his hotel room and sending microwave vibrations into his body to deprive him of sleep.
On Wednesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs told lawmakers in Congress that Alexis visited two VA hospitals in late August complaining of insomnia, but that he denied struggling with anxiety or depression or had thoughts of harming himself or others. On Aug. 23 he visited an emergency room at the VA Medical Center in Providence, R.I. He made a similar visit five days later to the VA hospital in Washington.
Also on Wednesday, families began claiming the bodies of their loved ones from the medical examiner’s office in Washington.