TODAY   |  September 17, 2013

Shooting at Navy Yard leaves 12 dead

The Washington Navy Yard added a tragic chapter to its centuries-long history Monday, as authorities say Aaron Alexis, a 34-year old former Naval petty officer, opened fire, leaving 12 people dead. Alexis was killed as well. NBC’s Natalie Morales reports.

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>> start in washington at the scene of the deadly shooting at the navy yard . after conflicting reports on monday, confusing information, investigators now believe the gunman acted alone. natalie morales is there with the latest. natalie, good morning to you.

>> good morning to you, matt. we are right in front of the main gate here of the navy yard . now this military installation is open today, only, though, for essential personnel as officials continue their investigation. now, behind me, that tall building right there is building 197. that is where the shooting rampage took place. as you can see, this whole area, it's very much a different scene here this morning. this area was on lock down yesterday morning. hundreds of officials from numerous agencies swarmed this area upon word of the shooting, neighboring schools, about a half dozen schools were on lock down here. now, the man police believe committed the senseless act, identified as aaron alexis, a 34-year-old former navy reservist that had access to this facility. what is still unclear, why he shot and killed a dozen people.

>> reporter: morning turned into mayhem as a gunman opened fire.

>> we got a report on the 4th floor. a male with a shotgun. multiple shots fired. multiple people down.

>> reporter: eyewitnesses say the shooter took up a position on the fourth floor overlooking a wide open atrium at the center of the building. from there he reportedly opened fire with an automatic weapon on the food court on the ground floor and on the third floor balcony. witnesses say he also shot ayman on the fourth floor at point blank range. patricia ward was in the food court .

>> it was three gunshots straight in a row. pop, pop, pop. three seconds later it was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. so a total of seven gunshots.

>> reporter: the navy commander was warned by a perfect stranger.

>> an individual came from the building behind us, the maintenance building was talking to me and saying there's a shooter in your building and then i heard two more shots. one of them hit him. he went down in front of me and i took off from there.

>> reporter: police tactical units were on the scene in minutes and after a series of gun battles, the suspect was shot and killed. he's been identified as 34-year-old aaron alexis. a former navy reservist who most recently worked as a subcontractor for hewitt packard. president obama was briefed on the shooting calling it a cowardly act.

>> they know the dangers of serving abroad but today they faced the unimaginable violence they wouldn't have expected here at home.

>> we are starting to learn more about the victims here who range in age from 46 to 73. metropolitan police , though, are still in the process of notifying the families. this navy yard has over 16,000 civilian and military personnel and, today, it is very much still an active crime scene . savannah.

>>> natalie, thank you so much.