CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee — Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez was carrying 30-round magazines when he opened fire, according to a source briefed by law enforcement. Abdulazeez kept police at bay for some time with the amount of ammunition he had, according to the source.
Suspected shooter Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, is dead, the FBI said. But — publicly, at least — investigators haven’t said much more about him.
Witnesses saw Abdulazeez spray a hail of bullets at the glass doors of a military recruiting center in a strip mall. Then the gunman, who according to a law enforcement official was driving in a rented silver Ford Mustang convertible, moved on to his next target more than seven miles away: a Naval reserve center. There, he rammed into a gate at some point during his shooting rampage and was eventually killed by police, a U.S. official said.
Now, with the FBI in the lead, a terrorism task force is investigating, a law enforcement source said.
Authorities “have not determined whether it was an act of terrorism or whether it was a criminal act,” Ed Reinhold, FBI special agent in charge, told reporters. “We are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism — whether it was domestic, international — or whether it was a simple, criminal act.”
A key detail will help them make that determination: finding out the suspect’s motive.
Who was the suspect?
In the neighborhood where Abdulazeez is believed to have lived, police cars and an ambulance were on the streets. Residents were blocked from reaching their homes. A woman was escorted in handcuffs from the area, but it was unclear whether she was connected to the alleged gunman.
“We will treat this as a terrorism investigation until it can be determined that it is not,” Reinhold said. U.S. Attorney Bill Killian earlier told reporters that authorities were treating the shooting as an “act of domestic terrorism.”
Authorities have released few details about the alleged gunman, but some details have begun to emerge about his past.
Abdulazeez was not in any U.S. databases of suspected terrorists, a U.S. official said. He was born in Kuwait and had Jordanian citizenship, two law enforcement officials said. He was a naturalized U.S. citizen, one official said.
Neighbor Dean McDaniel said he’d known the family for most of his 17 years living in the Chattanooga suburb of Hixson, Tennessee. He first crossed paths with Mohammad Abdulazeez when he was an elementary school student, and later would see him from time to time when he visited his sisters while they were baby-sitting McDaniel’s children.
“He was a good kid. … They’re good people,” he said. “I’ve never had any kind of conflict with them.”
He graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2012 with a degree in electrical engineering, university spokesman Chuck Cantrell said.
Kevin Emily, his former high school wrestling coach, described him as “a great student” who sometimes missed practice to pray.
“He always contributed, always did what I asked him to do. I never had any problems out of Mohammad,” Emily told CNN’s “Erin Burnett: Outfront.” “He was very humble when he was in high school. He’d always listen to me, looked me in the eye. He was just — in high school he was a great kid.”
A quote appeared beside his photos in his high school yearbook: “My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?”
For years, Samantha Barnette sat next to him in class, but now she said she feels like she never really knew him.
“He was also incredibly intelligent, which really makes me wonder about his true motives for doing this,” said Barnette, who posted a photo of the yearbook page on Facebook. “He was always getting recognized for his high grades and getting awards all throughout school. It’s upsetting to see him waste it all.”
Injured sailor in ‘serious condition’
The shootings unfolded at two sites over 30 minutes, Reinhold said.
The suspected gunman started spraying bullets at the glass doors of a strip mall military recruiting center around 10:45 a.m. ET, witnesses said. From there, he headed to another location more than seven miles away, an operational support center operated by the U.S. Navy. That’s where the four victims and the gunman were killed, Reinhold said.
At least three people were injured: a police officer, a Marine Corps recruiter and a sailor.
The police officer, who was injured when he was shot in the ankle, was treated at the hospital, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said. Officer Dennis Pedigo was one of the first responders on the scene, a law enforcement source close to the investigation said.
The recruiter, who was wounded in the leg, was treated and released from the hospital, the U.S. Marines said.
A female sailor who was shot is in surgery and in “pretty serious condition,” a Pentagon official told CNN’s Barbara Starr.
What was security situation?
The shooting left the city reeling and raised questions about the security at the military centers.
“Today was a nightmare for the city of Chattanooga. … We had someone viciously attack, at two different locations, people who proudly serve our country,” Berke said.
Authorities haven’t released details yet about where at the centers the victims were shot or how the gunman gained access.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the FBI director had briefed him on the shootings.
“We take all shootings very seriously. Obviously when you have an attack on a U.S. military facility, then we have to make sure that we have all the information necessary to make an assessment in terms of how this attack took place and what further precautions we can take in the future,” he said, vowing that the investigation would be “thorough and prompt.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said authorities were stepping up security at “certain federal facilities, out of an abundance of caution” after the shootings.
‘It was very loud and very fast’
April Grimmett said she was working at a hair salon near the recruiting center when she looked out a window and saw a man ducking in between cars.
“Shortly after that, we heard the (shots). It was very loud and very fast,” she said.
A photo that she took shows glass doors damaged by the gunfire.
“I could not believe how many bullet holes were in that door. It was insane,” she said.
Gina Mule, a server at a restaurant, said she saw a man who’d been in a silver convertible Mustang, firing a “high-powered rifle” at the recruiting offices at about 10:50 a.m.
She said she first heard “Pow, pow, pow!” She then went to a window, through which she said she saw the man firing shots.
“He never got out of the car,” she said. “He had a big, huge, high-powered rifle, and he was unloading shots right into the recruiters.”
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has issued this statement:
“It is with a heavy heart that I learned of today’s tragic events in Chattanooga. My thoughts and prayers – along with those of the men and women of the Department of Defense – are with the families of those killed in this senseless act of violence and with all those touched by this tragedy, including our Navy and Marine Corps family. I am grateful to local law enforcement for their swift response. The department will continue to work with local law enforcement as they investigate this heinous crime and will support our military families in their time of grief.”
The FBI has issued this statement:
“The FBI’s Knoxville Field Office, along with the Chattanooga Police Department and other law enforcement partners, are working jointly to investigate today’s shootings at a military recruitment center and a reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee in which four individuals were killed and three injured. The shooter, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, is also deceased. While it would be premature to speculate on the motives of the shooter at this time, we will conduct a thorough investigation of this tragedy and provide updates as they are available.”