By Shelly Bradbury, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
July 23–Mere minutes turned the course of Chattanooga on July 16. In seven minutes, a lone gunman attacked two military sites in the city. And in just three to five minutes, that gunman killed four service members and mortally wounded another.
On Wednesday, the FBI offered more details on the attack. Here, pieced together from federal information and witnesses, is a timeline of what happened the morning of Thursday, July 16.
Gunman Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, pulled up to the armed forces recruiting center on Lee Highway, just before 11 a.m. in a rented silver Mustang, and opened fire from the convertible.
The shots smashed through windows and sent members of the military running for cover. In the Army’s recruiting office, Sgt. Robert Dodge and three other people took shelter in a back room and barricaded the door.
The first “shots-fired” call came in to the Hamilton County 911 Center at 10:51 a.m. Dispatchers created a computer-aided dispatch card (known as a CAD card) at that minute, according to the center’s active incidents list, and that card started the emergency response.
The shooting lasted for about a minute, Dodge said.
, Donahue was listening to Bastille’s “Bad Blood” album when he heard what sounded like a volley of shots. But he wasn’t sure what he’d heard, so he stopped working, and turned off the music.
About 10 or 15 seconds after the first volley, he heard another round. Definitely gunfire. He walked into an office and shut the door tight. Another witness described seeing Abdulazeez fire, then back up the Mustang, realign and fire again.
In the back room of the Army recruiting office, Dodge and his people stayed hidden for another five to seven minutes. No one from his group was injured.
But the gunfire did wound a Marine recruiter, one of five in the Marine’s recruiting office, said U.S. Marine Corp. Maj. Gen. Paul Brier. The recruiter, who has not been identified, has since been treated and released from a local hospital.
Abdulazeez never stepped out of the Mustang at Lee Highway.
After pounding the building with rounds, he sped on to Highway 153 and made for the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center, about 7 miles away on Amnicola Highway.
Stephen Holloway was on his way to an 11 a.m. appointment and had just turned onto Amnicola Highway, headed south, when he noticed multiple police cars flying by, sirens wailing, headed north — toward Highway 153.
Traffic slowed as Holloway reached the part of Amnicola where Dupont Parkway bridges over the highway. There, sitting in nearly stopped traffic, Holloway spotted a silver Mustang coming up fast in his sideview mirror.
The Mustang flew by in the turn lane on Holloway’s left. The driver had to be going 80 or 90 miles per hour, he said.
“We were like, ‘Whoa, that must be the guy they’re chasing,'” Holloway said. “But then after that, police cars were still passing us going the opposite direction.”
The entrance to the military reserve was less than a half mile ahead, on the right. As Holloway drove by, he saw a patrol car, with lights on but no siren, driving slowly, slowly down the driveway of the reserve.
Holloway made it to his 11 a.m. appointment exactly on time. Soon after they arrived, a woman told them there was an active shooter situation down the road, and that they needed to lock the doors.
At 10:58 a.m., a dispatcher at the Hamilton County 911 Center created the CAD card for a “shots-fired” call at 4210 Amnicola Highway — the reserve center — and sent police to the site.
Abdulazeez had crashed his Mustang through a gate and jumped out in front of the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center’s main building. He was armed with an assault rifle, a handgun and numerous rounds of ammunition, wearing a load-bearing vest so he could carry more.
The 24-year-old left a second rifle behind in the Mustang, said Ed Reinhold, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville division. As Abdulazeez approached the building, a service member inside spotted Abdulazeez and fired several rounds at him, Reinhold said. It’s unclear whether Abdulazeez was hit.
Abdulazeez fired back into the building. He stormed the door and made it inside, then shot and mortally wounded U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, 26.
Marines inside the building ran from door-to-door and rushed people out as Abdulazeez approached, Brier said. Twenty Marines and two Navy corpsmen were in the building. Brier said the Marines made it to safety, then some “willingly ran back to the fight.”
Meanwhile, Abdulazeez kept on through the building, firing at anyone he encountered, Reinhold said. He exited out the back of the building into a gated motorpool, where he killed two Marines.
Abdulazeez then shot and killed two more Marines who were trying to “provide cover” and help others escape the attack over a fence on the edge of the property. After gunning down the final two Marines, Abdulazeez tried to run back into the building and was stopped by Chattanooga police officers.
Chattanooga police officer Dennis Pedigo was wounded in the firefight. Abdulazeez was killed.
And while witnesses initially said the gun battle lasted 20 or 30 minutes, Reinhold said the entire encounter — from the moment Abdulazeez smashed through the fence until the moment he was killed — lasted just three to five minutes.
By the end of that window, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, 25; Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40; Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells, 21; and Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt, 35, were already gone.
Chip Baker and Mickey McCamish were coming down the ramp from Dupont Parkway to Amnicola as part of a funeral procession headed to the Chattanooga National Cemetery when the air exploded with gunshots.
Traffic on the ramp instantly slowed to a crawl. Baker looked right and saw officers, less than 100 yards away, crouched behind a car for cover. The police escort for the funeral procession peeled away.
“The shots were just going off left and right,” Baker said. “I’ve never heard such a volley of bullets and explosions.”
McCamish, a retired Navy captain, heard automatic gunfire for a few moments. Then the funeral procession reached the end of the ramp and did a U-turn, away from the attack. As it turned, McCamish made a call to theChattanooga National Cemetery to let them know the procession would be late.
By the time he made that call at 11:04 a.m., he could no longer hear the automatic weapon fire.
Across town, Mayor Andy Berke was first alerted to the shooting at 11:04 a.m., but it’d be another 10 minutes or so before he’d hear of the men wounded and killed.
The first ambulance arrived from the scene of the shooting at Erlanger.
A second ambulance arrived at Erlanger.
Berke opened the first news conference on the shooting, taking the podium in front of a handful of journalists whose numbers would triple in the coming days, as the nation centered on the attack.
“Today,” he said, “is a nightmare for the city of Chattanooga.”
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or email@example.com with tips or story ideas.
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