Clarence Williams and Dan Morse, Washington Post
Special to In Homeland Security
Two Marines were shot and killed Thursday at the Officer Candidate School at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, and the suspected shooter, also a Marine, fatally shot himself at the base, Marine Corps officials said.
The shooter gunned down a male Marine before seizing a female Marine and killing her, then himself, officials said.
Marine Corps officials said the shooting was not a terrorist attack nor an attempt to cause mass casualties, adding that the gunman and two victims were members of the same unit and knew each other.
“This was an isolated incident,” said Capt. Eric D. Flanagan, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon. “At no point was this suspected to be a mass shooting.”
The Marines are still trying to confirm a motive but are investigating whether some of the dead had been romantically involved. “That’s not outside the realm of possibility,” said a Marine official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation.
The shootings happened in the Taylor Hall barracks at the school located on the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., at about 11 p.m., said the base commander, Col. David W. Maxwell.
He told reporters that all three of the Marines were staffers at the school and that all officer candidates there were safe and accounted for.
Maxwell denied earlier reports that the suspect barricaded himself inside the barracks in a standoff with authorities before committing suicide. He said there was no barricade situation.
Another Marine official said there was a “lag time between finding the first victim and the second victim.”
The first 911 call about the incident came in at 10:30 p.m., but no shots were heard, Maxwell said. He said that at 11 p.m., the base used a notification system called “giant voice” to put the Quantico installation on lockdown.
Identities of the three Marines will not be released for 24 hours or until next of kin can be notified, Maxwell said.
Maxwell said “it is not the situation that there was a standoff or barricade,” as some news reports had said.
He said a chaplain is at the base providing support and helping Marines cope with the incident. “We are making sure we are taking care of our Marines and their families as they deal with this tragedy,” he said. “All the details are under investigation.”
“This is truly a tragic loss for the Marine Corps, which has had a number of tragic losses in the last couple of weeks,” Maxwell said in a seven-minute news briefing. He took no questions afterward.
“It’s been a long night,” the commander said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “was saddened to learn of the shootings at Marine Corps Base Quantico,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. “This tragedy, as well as the tragedy in Nevada earlier this week, took the lives of Marines who volunteered to serve their nation. His heart and his prayers are with them and their families. He believes that the legendary strength of the United States Marine Corps will ensure that they are forever remembered.”
Little referred to the deaths of seven Marines on Monday when a mortar exploded prematurely during a training exercise at an Army munitions depot in Nevada. Eight other service members were wounded in the incident.
At the Quantico base, Marines from the Provost Marshal’s office and officers from the Prince William Police Department initially responded to the school,said Marine Sgt. Christopher Zahn.
By 2:30 a.m. Friday, investigators entered the barracks and found all of the dead Marines, authorities said. They said the gunman died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The suspected shooter was identified only as a staff member at the school, and authorities declined to provide further details.
After reports of the shooting, officials put the base on Force Protection Delta status, which shut down all movement around the base and closed all gates to traffic in and out of the facility for nearly four hours.
The incident was described as “an isolated shooting” in an initial message posted to the base Facebook page and tweeted from the base Twitter account late Thursday. An update posted to the page at about 1:45 a.m. said a “suspect has been barricaded by law enforcement personnel, but is currently not under custody.”
The Quantico base, about 33 miles southwest of Washington, also houses the FBI’s training academy.
Many people on the base commented on the Facebook updates looking for more information about the shooting.
“That speaker is right outside my window so my heart skips a beat each time it goes off! The updates are at least helping calm my nerves,” one user wrote.
Some said they were having trouble hearing the loudspeaker updates and were using Facebook posts for instructions.
“I’m getting better updates on here than the speakers,” another user said.
The messages asked that all base personnel remain indoors behind locked doors. The message posted at 2:45 a.m. lifted the lockdown orders and said that “all normal activities are cleared to resume.”
Craig Whitlock contributed to this story.