The FBI is investigating two brazen attacks on military facilities in Chattanooga in which four members of the military were killed, leading to lockdowns at the Army Recruiting Center on Lee highway as well as the Naval and Marine Reserve Center at the Chattanooga Riverpark, as well as local hospitals.
The motive behind the attack, which the FBI said came without warning, is still under investigation.
The attacks began when a single shooter, identified as 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, drove a silver Ford Mustang convertible to a Lee Highway recruiting center and began firing shots at 10:45 a.m., then led police on a chase to the Amnicola Highway location, where he opened fire again. Abdulazeez fired the initial shots at Lee Highway from inside his convertible, officials said, before speeding toward the Amnicola Highway location and engaging in a firefight with police officers there.
Three victims were rushed to Erlanger’s Trauma Center, including a Chattanooga police officer and two members of the military. One of those patients was discharged from Erlanger this afternoon; the other two are still being treated.
Officials have said the shooter is dead. During the attack on Amnicola Highway, numerous Chattanooga and Hamilton County officers “actively and enthusiastically” engaged the suspect, said Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher.
A sign on the outside of the Lee Highway location had a “no guns allowed” sign posted. During the news conference, the FBI confirmed that guns were generally prohibited at federal facilities.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called the situation a “tragedy” and “sickening.” The Governor’s mansion, along with many other sensitive facilities in the region, was put under heightened security immediately following the shootings.
In Washington, President Barack Obama pledged a prompt and thorough investigation and said the White House had been in touch with the Pentagon to make sure military installations are being vigilant.
“It is a heartbreaking circumstance for these individuals who served our country with great valor to be killed in this fashion,” he said.
U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said during a press conference that he would classify the violence as an “act of domestic terrorism.”
Witnesses at both the Amnicola and Lee Highway sites reported hearing multiple gunshots in each case, with the bulk of the firing happing at the Amnicola Highway location. Shortly after the shooting, blue markers littered the ground outside the recruiting station on Lee Highway where shots were fired, and police completely blocked off Amnicola Highway to traffic.
A photo taken after the attack from a helicopter and posted on Twitter showed the shooter’s Ford Mustang with doors opened, parked next to a bent gate that was positioned in such a way that it appeared to have been rammed by the vehicle.
President Obama has been briefed on the situation, and multiple law enforcement agencies have responded to the scene, including the FBI.
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 and later let them back inside.
She said the business was still locked down more than two hours after the shooting and police were bringing food into the employees.
At the Lee highway location, witnesses also reported hearing multiple gunshots.
Nicholas Donahue, an employee at Desktop Solutions, said he heard two groups of four to eight shots.
Another witness said he saw the shooter drive away at high speed after the shooting there.
Toscano Italian Grill co-owner Mohamed Elbardissy heard shots and saw the shooter drive away at high speed.
“He was driving a silver, convertible Mustang — a white guy,” Elbardissy said.
“One of the guys, he got shot in his leg,” Elbardissy said. “[The victim] was trying to join the Navy.”
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 and ordered the news media across the street.
Erlanger’s CEO told a reporter the hospital was on lockdown “so that we could actively manage the disaster.”
At one point, officers closed a curtain outside the Emergency Room, obscuring the ambulance from public view. They continued to work on the person in the ambulance for several minutes before bringing him inside the hospital. He appeared to be awake and sitting up.
Family members arrived later and were escorted inside by other police officers, who put their arms around the women.
Bruce Gans, owner of Tri-State Pools at 6220 Perimeter Drive, near Lee Highway where the shooting occurred at the U.S. Naval Recruiting Station, heard at least three gunshots this morning.
“We had the back door of the store open when we heard ‘Pop, pop, pop,’ which sounded liked an AR-15. Within minutes, it seemed, cops were all over the place. We heard rumors that five Marines had been killed. We locked the doors.”
“I just heard all the shooting,” said Fred Wright, a counter salesman at Carquest Auto Parts downhill from the U.S. Army Recruiting Office at 6219 Lee Hwy.
Then Wright 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.'”
“Three of them came in here, and we called 911,” Wright said.
Abdulazeez was believed to have been born in Kuwait, and it was unclear whether he was a U.S. or Kuwaiti citizen. It was not immediately clear whether the gunman’s first name was spelled Muhammad or Mohammad.
Abdulazeez is from Hixson, Tennessee, which is just a few miles across the river from Chattanooga. He was booked for a DUI in April 2015. A man named Youssuf Abdulazeez attended UTC, spokesman Chuck Cantrell said, and graduated in 2012 with a degree in engineering.
Abdulazeez was a student intern for TVA five years ago while he was at UTC. He did not work at either of the facilities he attacked, according to the FBI.
He wrestled in high school and became an MMA fighter afterward, according to Ryan Smith, who was a year behind Abdulazeez at Red Bank High School. Abdulazeez’s family was very religious, Smith said. The women in Abdulazeez’s family wore traditional Islam head coverings, Smith said.
A reporter saw a SWAT team and FBI agents staging at a strip mall in Hixson near the shooter’s house. The house, which Hamilton County records is owned by Youssuf S. Abdulazeez, is appraised at $206,100 by the Hamilton County Assessor of Property. Police in Hixson kicked a reporter out of the neighborhood that contained a house apparently owned by Abdulazeez. However, the Associated Press reported that two women were led out in handcuffs.
Abdulazeez allegedly killed four Marines and shot one police officer in the attack at Amnicola Highway. A soldier and a police officer were wounded in the attack, according to the Associated Press. Dennis Pedigo, a Chattanooga police officer, is in stable condition.
Abdulazeez’s father, Youssuf Abdullazeez, was appointed as a “special policeman” for Chattanooga’s Department of Public Works in March 2005.
Bradley Square Mall in Cleveland, which also has a recruiting office, was also locked down after a “shots fired” call. However, after clearing the mall shortly before 2 p.m., police said that there was no shooting in Bradley County. It was set to reopen at 5 p.m.
Chattanooga State Community College, which is down the road from the shooting on Amnicola, was also on lockdown until further notice, said spokeswoman Eva Lewis.
Lewis said she could see Chattanooga Police and Chattanooga State patrol cars circling around campus.
A Rave alert was sent out to students warning those on campus to get inside and stay put and those with classes now and this afternoon to stay away, she said.
The lockdown was lifted after police said the “active shooter” situation was over, but Lewis said the campus will close for the day.
The campus was being closed for the day out of respect for the families of the victims, and in recognition of the emotional day for students’ parents and the students themselves, she said.
Chattanooga State’s campus on Amnicola HIghway will return to a normal schedule on Friday.
About an hour after the shots were fired in Chattanooga, McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy said officers were sent over to the area around the recruiting center in Athens, Tenn., “just as a precaution.”
Sympathy poured in from around the country for the shooting victims.
Gerald McCormick, Tennessee house majority leader, said he was “deeply saddened to hear of today’s horrific events in our hometown of Chattanooga.”
“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. I have been in contact with state and local officials to monitor any developments. I have the utmost confidence in our law enforcement agencies to handle this situation in a swift and professional manner.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.