George Revoir, 62, went in to the office on Monday morning, Sept. 16, to fill out a bereavement leave request so he could return home to Elkhart for his older sister’s funeral.
He arrived at building 197 in the Washington Navy Yard, where he works as the Installation Program Director for Occupational Safety and Health, at about 8 a.m.
At 8:15 a.m., Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old civilian contractor with the U.S. Navy, carried a shotgun into the building and began firing at employees in the building’s atrium.
Alexis killed 12 and wounded several others before he was shot and killed by police.
“When the balloon went up, when the notification went out that there was a shooter in the building, I was called to take a position in the ROC, the Regional Operations Center,” Revoir said. “I went in around 8 a.m. and I didn’t get out until 10 p.m.”
The ROC was the command center within the building where naval commanders, police and other first responders gathered to process the ongoing events and incoming information and form a plan of action.
“Where I was was a very secure location behind a vault door,” Revoir said, emphasizing that he did not personally witness any of the shooting or see the suspect.
Revoir said the room did have access to the building’s security cameras, so he saw some of the events as the cameras recorded them.
“We felt so bad because there was not so much we could actively do to help,” Revoir said. “We could just get people where they needed to go expeditiously.”
Despite the chaos unfolding in front of them, Revoir said he was incredibly impressed by the calm professionalism of the yard’s command staff.
“It was a great group of professionals,” he said. “They got the battle rhythm going, moving along and gave out briefings on a regular basis.”
He said the commanders also demonstrated great humility and care for their staff.
One admiral knew that the family of one of the slain employees was waiting for the person about a quarter of a mile away at Nationals Park, where bus loads of Navy Yard employees were being dropped off after being debriefed by the FBI.
The FBI had not yet notified the family that their loved one would not be getting off one of the buses and the admiral volunteered to go wait with the family until they were notified.
“He could just as easily have given (that assignment) to a lieutenant or an aide, but he said he’d go,” Revoir said. “I was impressed.”
The scene around the yard as he left that evening was “surrealistic,” he said.
“There were the rotating lights of police cars in all directions,” Revoir said. Officers from dozens of different agencies — local police and SWAT teams, FBI, NCIS and U.S. Marshals to name a few — filled the installation and helicopters buzzed overhead.
When he finally returned home, Revoir turned to online news reports to sort out the facts of the situation from the rumors that had been buzzing around the yard all day.
“I was so keyed-up physically and dead-tired emotionally,” he said. “I was reading the news reports because I couldn’t sleep.”
The combination of his sister’s death and the events of Monday morning was a lot to process at once.
“I’m trying to bear with it as much as I can,” Revoir said. “It hurt really, really bad (on Monday).”
“I plan to be back (at work) on Wednesday of next week,” he said. “I’m glad to get away from the yard to try to decompress.”
The Washington Navy Yard was shut down except for essential personnel while crime scene technicians processed building 197 on Tuesday, Sept. 17, Revoir said.
He said he suspected the yard’s other staff would be allowed to return to work on Wednesday, Sept. 18.
Despite the need for a break, he said it won’t be hard for him to return because he did not personally witness any of the violence other than what he saw on the security footage.
Revoir, who has worked at the Navy Yard since 2001 and has worked for the U.S. military since he joined the Air Force in 1974, said it’s still difficult to understand how and why Alexis targeted the employees of the Navy Sea Systems Command, all of whom were civilians and strangers to Alexis.
“This guy was a contractor and didn’t know anyone at the Navy Yard,” Revoir said. “These people came in and went to the cafeteria to get an egg sandwich or some coffee. They were talking about the ball game over the weekend or a movie they saw and this guy on the fourth floor starts shooting into the atrium like he’s shooting fish in a barrel.”
“It’s incredibly terrible. They had no idea where to run, what to do, how to protect themselves. It’s shocking,” he said.