Victim of Florida navy base shooting pointed first responders to attacker as he was dying, family says

The family of one of the victims of Friday’s shooting at a Florida naval base says the 23-year-old “died a hero,” as he pointed first responders to the attacker in his last minutes of life.   

Joshua Watson, who had just graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and looked forward to a military career as a pilot, “saved countless lives … with his own,” his brother Adam said in a Facebook post.

“After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable,” Adam Watson wrote.

“We are beyond proud but there is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled,” he wrote.  “Just wish I could talk to him one more time or wrestle with him one more time.”

“I’m just an emotional wreck,” Joshua Watson’s father, Benjamin, told The Associated Press.

“We want my son’s story told,” he said.

In an account he shared earlier with the Pensacola News Journal, he said his son was shot at least five times. Though wounded, the young officer flagged down first responders and described the shooter.

“He died serving his country,” the elder Watson said of his son. 

Joshua had reported to Pensacola two weeks ago for flight training to live out his dream of becoming a Navy pilot, his father told the News Journal. 

On Saturday morning, Watson’s family was preparing to drive 200 kilometres from their home in Enterprise, Alabama, to Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida’s Panhandle.

The anguish spread from Pensacola and into communities across the country, as fellow Americans shared in the shock after the attack in which an aviation student from Saudi Arabia opened fire in a classroom at the navy base on Friday morning, killing three people, as well as himself. 

The assault, which prompted a massive law enforcement response and base lockdown, ended when a sheriff’s deputy killed the attacker. Eight people were hurt in the attack, including the deputy and a second deputy who was with him.

U.S. officials investigating the deadly attack were working Saturday to determine whether it was motivated by terrorism. 

Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott issued a scathing statement calling the shooting — the second on a U.S. Naval base this week — an act of terrorism “whether this individual was motivated by radical Islam or was simply mentally unstable.”

The shooter was a member of the Saudi military who was in aviation training at the base, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference. DeSantis spokesperson Helen Ferre later said the governor learned about the shooter’s identity from briefings with FBI and military officials.

During a news conference Friday night, the FBI declined to release the shooter’s identity and wouldn’t comment on his possible motivations.

“There are many reports circulating, but the FBI deals only in facts,” said Rachel L. Rojas, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Jacksonville Field Office.

Earlier Friday, two U.S. officials identified the student as a second lieutenant in the Saudi Air Force.

A national security expert from the Heritage Foundation warned against making an immediate link to terrorism.

Charles “Cully” Stimson cautioned against assuming that “because he was a Saudi national in their air force and he murdered our people, that he is a terrorist.”

President Donald Trump declined to say whether the shooting was terrorism-related. Trump tweeted his condolences to the families of the victims and noted that he had received a phone call from Saudi King Salman.

He said the king told him that “this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people.”

The Saudi government offered condolences to the victims and their families and said it would provide “full support” to U.S. authorities.

The U.S. has long had a robust training program for Saudis, providing assistance in the U.S. and in the kingdom.

One of the Navy’s most historic and storied bases, Naval Air Station Pensacola sprawls along the waterfront southwest of the city’s downtown and dominates the economy of the surrounding area.

Part of the base resembles a college campus, with buildings where 60,000 members of the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard train each year in multiple fields of aviation. A couple hundred students from countries outside the U.S. are also enrolled in training, said Base commander Capt. Tim Kinsella.

All of the shooting took place in one classroom and the shooter used a handgun, authorities said. Weapons are not allowed on the base, which Kinsella said would remain closed until further notice.

The shooting is the second at a U.S. naval base this week.

A sailor whose submarine was docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, opened fire on three civilian employees Wednesday, killing two before taking his own life.

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