WASHINGTON — Two Marines were shot and killed at the Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, and the suspected shooter, also a Marine, fatally shot himself inside a barracks on the base, authorities said Friday.
The shooter gunned down a male Marine before seizing a woman and killing her and then himself, officials said. They declined to publicly discuss a possible motive in the attacks, but said the episode was not a terrorist attack or a mass shooting.
They said the gunman and two victims were members of the same unit and knew one another. “This was an isolated incident,” said Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon. “At no point was this suspected to be a mass shooting.”
A senior military official who works at the Pentagon, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a romantic entanglement might have prompted the shootings.
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“The most likely explanation is a love triangle,” said the official, who had been briefed on the incident. The official cautioned, however, that the investigation continued.
The base, which also houses the FBI’s training academy, is about 30 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., in Prince William County, Va.
Officials did not disclose the names of the three dead Marines on Friday. They invoked the policy that applies to combat deaths, in which identities of the dead are withheld until 24 hours after relatives are notified.
An official said the gunman was a sergeant, the male victim was a corporal and the female victim was a lance corporal.
The shootings occurred in the Taylor Hall barracks at the Officer Candidate School, according to the base commander, Col. David Maxwell. He said the three Marines were staff members at the school and that all officer candidates there were safe and accounted for.
He would not say what the three Marines did at the school, which is known for its grueling 10-week program that evaluates candidates on physical stamina, intelligence and leadership. The candidates must complete obstacle courses, hikes of up to 12 miles in full combat gear and take classes on navigation and tactics that help them lead in the field, according to the school’s website.
Some are sent home. Those that do graduate become second lieutenants. Along with the U.S. Naval Academy, the school is the way most Marines become officers.
The attack came days after seven members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force were killed when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube during an exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Eight others were injured.
Maxwell referenced the Nevada deaths in his remarks, choking up as he said chaplains at Quantico would be providing counseling for Marines and their families. “I want to express my sincere condolences to the families, friends and fellow Marines of the three Marines we lost last night,” he said.
“This is truly a tragic loss for the Marine Corps, which has had a number of tragic losses in the last couple of weeks,” he added at the news briefing Friday. He took no questions afterward. “It’s been a long night,” he said.
“Base is a bit of a somber place today,” said Laura Gleckel Unger, a resident there. “Living in a neighborhood surrounded by families, some of whom work at (the officer school), is always hard. You pray that it isn’t your neighbor or anyone you know, but at the same time you know they will all be affected.”
The first 911 call 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 loudspeaker system called the “giant voice” to put the Quantico installation on lockdown.
Marines from the Provost Marshal’s office and Prince William police officers initially responded to the report of gunshots, and suspected the shooter had barricaded himself inside a building, said Marine Sgt. Christopher Zahn. By 2:30 a.m. Friday, authorities had entered the building and found three dead Marines.
Zahn said a chaplain is at the base providing support. “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.”
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.
Erin Marie Gaith, a Marine spouse who lives on base, jumped on Facebook and learned what the giant voice was trying to tell her: There had been a shooting.
Gaith woke up her husband and the couple locked their doors and windows. They grabbed their 3-year old daughter, the cat and the dog and holed up in their bedroom. She locked the bedroom door, too. “We didn’t have much detail about what was going on, so I am sure crazy thoughts were running through everyone’s heads,” she said. “I know for me, it did.”
About 3 a.m. Friday, residents said, the giant voice gave the all clear.