Outtakes: Our Charges
Last Friday, news alerts of an active shooter on Naval Air Station Pensacola went out as I walked into our office. Escambia County deputies were on the scene. Victims were being transported to Baptist Hospital. Like so many other locals, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because NAS Pensacola is such an integral part of our community.
The men and women stationed on the base are considered our charges. Their families count on our community to look after their loved ones. We see these sailors and marines walking around downtown and at the mall and volunteering to help local charities. We see them as our children and grandchildren.
On Friday, we soon learned three were killed, and eight were wounded. Two deputies that answered the call to the base were also injured. I reached out to my friends in law enforcement, and they, fortunately, weren’t among the casualties.
I was grateful that Sheriff David Morgan had the foresight to fight for the Warrington substation minutes away from the base’s front gate on Navy Boulevard. His predecessor had shut down the substation in 2008, but Morgan insisted it be reopened and won the support of the Board of County Commissioners to build the new facility, which opened in 2012.
The rapid response of those front-line officers saved lives and terminated the threat but, sadly, not before three lives were lost. Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Fla; Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Ga.; and Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, from Coffee County, Ala., were killed. Their photos—optimistic faces, proud and filled with hope and promise—have been plastered on the news. Families have shared their dreams and how courageous they were as they faced death.
Over the coming days and weeks, much airtime and ink will be devoted to the shooter, who had his head blown away by a deputy. Politicians will debate policies. Defense and state officials will discuss how to secure better our bases and the value of training international students at our military facilities. And pundits will manipulate the facts to support their ideologies.
In time, Inweekly will report on the facts and try to give them a meaningful context. We will try to provide a human face to this terrorist attack and how well we responded to the threat, but our approach won’t be to scoop other media, not this time.
Instead, we join the community in praying for the families of Mohammed Haitham, Cameron Walters and Joshua Watson and for those who serve and protect us in the military and law enforcement daily. And we will thank them for their sacrifices.