By Michael Muskal, Christina Littlefield, Christine Mai-Duc and Julie Westfall, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
A shooting at a military reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, left four Marines dead and three people injured, including a police officer, officials announced Thursday.
The gunman was also killed, officials said. The FBI identified him as 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez.
The deadly attack was preceded by a shooting at a nearby military recruiting center, where no one was injured.
“This is a sad day for the United States,” William C. “Bill” Killian, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Tennessee, said at a news conference. “These service members served their country with pride, and they have been the victims of these shootings.”
Killian said the shootings were being treated as an act of domestic terrorism, but he later backed away from that label.
An FBI official said authorities will investigate the shooter’s motive to determine whether terror was the intent. “We will treat this as a terrorist investigation until it can be determined it is not,” Special Agent in Charge Edward W. Reinhold said.
The first shooting took place about 10:45 a.m., and both shootings were over within about 30 minutes, Reinhold said.
A federal law enforcement official described the shooter as a white man who pulled up in a gray Ford Mustang convertible with its top down, jumped out and “almost instantly” started firing. The shooter was heavily armed with multiple weapons, said the official, who asked not to be named because he or she was not permitted to speak about the investigation. The official does not believe the shooter worked at either of the military centers, but said the shooter might have lived nearby.
Officials said the police officer who was injured was pursuing the suspect from the first shooting at a recruiting center on Lee Highway and engaged a man at the scene of the second shooting, the reserve center on Amnicola Highway, about a five-minute drive away.
The officer was shot in the ankle, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said.
One of the victims who was injured is in critical condition, according to Chattanooga police.
The victims’ names have not been released.
In the first shooting, recruiters reported seeing a vehicle pull up in front of the center, shots being fired at the building and then the vehicle driving away, said Brian Lepley, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command out of Fort Knox, Kentucky.
It is unclear how many shots were fired or what damage the building sustained.
Four Army recruiters were in the building at the time, Lepley said, adding that they were not injured and had been evacuated from the center. Recruiting officers have been trained to react to threats since the 2009 shooting at a recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas, he said.
The center recruits for all four armed services, he said.
“We are working closely with the U.S. Navy and local and federal law enforcement to determine exactly what happened today in Chattanooga,” said Maj. Paul L. Greenberg, a Marine spokesman.
Earlier, Berke had tweeted that there was a “horrific incident in our community. We will release details as they are confirmed. Prayers to all those affected.”
Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga “received some people” after the shootings, a spokeswoman said. She did not provide more details.
Nic Donohue, a computer technician at Desktop Solutions, which is three doors away from the recruiting center on Lee, heard some of the shots.
“At first, I had music playing in the background so I wasn’t able to clearly discern what was going on. I thought it could’ve been really loud banging at the front door, so I turned off the music,” the 24-year-old said.
“It was a couple seconds later that I heard the second grouping of shots,” he said. “In the back of your head, you really don’t want to believe that it is gunfire and something dangerous is going on.”
Donohue said he stayed in the back during the shooting, which is walled off and not visible through the store’s glass windows and doors, and tried to keep busy with repairs. A couple of minutes later, he went to the front of the store and saw police and emergency vehicles had arrived, he said.
Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., and Chattanooga State Community College in Chattanooga went into lockdown amid the reports, but Lee University quickly lifted its alert. Chattanooga State, which is about a mile from the reserve center, lifted its lockdown later; the main campus is to remain closed for the rest of the day.
In Cleveland, Tenn., about 30 miles from Chattanooga, Bradley Square Mall went into automatic shutdown after the shootings because of a Tennessee National Guard recruiting center in the building, said the mall’s general manager, Stacia Crye-Shahan.
People at the recruiting center thought they heard shots fired and called 911, and police searched the building she said.
“There’s no evidence of shots fired, and no one was injured here, so we are very thankful for that,” Crye-Shahan said.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it had agents responding to the shooting, and a White House spokesman said President Barack Obama had been briefed on the situation.
(Tribune Washington Bureau staff writer Richard A. Serrano contributed to this report.)
Photo: A Chattanooga policeman holds a high-powered assault rifle outside the Reserve Recruitment Center at Highway 153 and Lee Highway on Thursday, July 16, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press/TNS)