President Barack Obama will speak Monday about the 5th anniversary of the financial crisis, kicking off a week of events devoted to the economy and the budget. / Evan Vucci AP
WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Monday called the victims of the Navy Yard shooting "patriots" and vowed that federal authorities would work closely with local police "to make sure whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible."
Obama's comments reflected the murkiness of what is now a still-fluid situation after Monday morning's mass shooting at a U.S. military installation in the nation's capital.
"We still don't know all the the facts, but we do know several people have been shot and some have been killed," said Obama, who paid tribute to the victims and first responders before delivering a scheduled speech to mark the 5th anniversary of the financial crisis. "We're confronting yet another mass shooting and today it happened on a military installation in our nation's capital. It's a shooting that targeted our military and civilian personnel.
Hours after Obama spoke, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said that at least 13 people, including a gunman, were killed in the shooting.
Authorities also identified Aaron Alexis, 34, a civilian contractor from Ft. Worth, as a gunman. Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier also said that investigators had had "multiple" pieces of information indicating there could have been more shooters.
Later on Monday, Obama called Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to express his condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the shooting rampage. The president also ordered that all U.S. flags at public buildings be lowered to half-staff until sunset on Friday in honor of the victims. And the White House postponed a concert honoring Hispanic Heritage Month at the White House that was scheduled for Monday evening.
"These are men and women who were going to work doing their jobs and protecting of all of us," Obama said. "They're patriots. They know the the dangers of serving abroad, but today they faced the unimaginable violence that they wouldn't have expected here at home.
Obama said he delayed the start of his speech on the financial crisis by nearly an hour as he monitored reports. White House press secretary Jay Carney later said that Obama didn't consider canceling his speech in light of the mass shooting.
"So we offer our gratitude to the Navy and local law enforcement, federal authorities and the doctors who responded with skill and bravery," Obama said.
Obama was briefed several times about the unfolding situation by the top White House counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, and deputy chief of staff Alyssa Mastromonaco.
Vice President Biden has been briefed by phone about the situation that is unfolding at the Navy Yard by his national security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to the office of the vice president. Biden is in South Carolina. He paid tribute to the victims before delivering a speech on the economy at the Port of Charleston.
"We are praying for the safety of all of the military and police personnel who are trying to bring this under control as well," Biden said.
In his remarks, Obama said: "I have made it clear to my team that I want the investigation to be seamless, so that local and federal authorities are working together. And as this investigation moves forward, we will do everything in our power to make sure whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible. In the meantime, we send our thoughts and prayers to all at the Navy Yard who've been touched by this tragedy."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, also paid tribute to the victims of the shooting rampage, which happened not far from the U.S. Capitol.
"These events strike a particularly personal chord for all of us on Capitol Hill. Every day, a special breed of men and women go to work at the Navy Yard, and they do so just blocks from our Capitol," Boehner said. "These are our neighbors and our defenders."
Copyright 2013 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: Obama: Navy Yard shooting victims are 'patriots'