At Navy Yard, Plenty of Media, Little Information
Jimmy Smith is an independent truck driver traveling the country for Disney's touring show, Doc McStuffins Doc Mobile. The show was supposed to perform in front of a live audience of children Tuesday at the Yards Park next to the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command by the Navy Yard. But as the crew was setting up for the show, shots erupted at the federal building next door.
"Military police told us to leave the park," Smith says. "And I ran."
In the hours following the shooting rampage that left 13 dead, the thoroughfare closest to the Navy building was blocked off, instantly transformed into a crime scene for blocks, free from the everyday traffic that typically jams M Street SE.
The area was filled instead with hundreds of journalists from around the world, the occasional hovering helicopter, and seemingly endless lines of police cars and ambulances, whose flashing red and blue lights and sporadic sirens kept a tense scene even tenser.
And then there were people like Smith, who were stranded in the middle of the crime scene.
Smith's truck was parked in a blockaded street and at around 3 p.m., police told him it could still be another few hours before he could retrieve it. He was waiting outside a nearby Starbucks with some other people, and like everyone else in the area, they were rattling off the rumors they had heard about the number of involved shooters and how many were still at large.
One of the men he was speaking with, Antonio Thomas, was a worker delivering fences for the live Disney show. His truck was parked by Yards Park when the shooting occurred. He captured footage on his phone of police firing at a shooter. (He contemplated giving the video to Washington City Paper, but when someone suggested he could get money for it, he decided not to.)
By afternoon, police had transported at least four buses of witnesses to be questioned, and the few witnesses that remained in the area were immediately bombarded by the media—who were looking for any information they could piece together between the information-scarce press conferences that occurred about every two hours throughout the afternoon.
A few blocks away from the dense crowd of reporters, officials set up an area, in the parking lot next to the main entrance of Nationals Park, where people could reunite with family members who had been in the Navy Yard building.
Reporters tried to catch a glimpse of these reunions, but there were few to be seen. Jacqueline Alston, who had not heard from her husband who worked as a custodian in the Navy Yard building, said officials told her it could still be hours before information was released about loved ones, because officials had to identify the injured victims in the hospital and those who were taken away to be questioned as witnesses. (Alston reportedly later found her husband, Ernest Johnston, alive and well.)
So absent much information, many people tried to continue on as normal.
Alston was preparing to report to work as an usher at the then yet-to-be cancelled Nats game. Perry Moore was similarly trying to navigate his way through the police barricades to make it on time to his shift at the ballpark, where he works as a line cook.
"They haven't told us anything," he says.
Photo by Perry Stein