A ban on personal cellphones inside Navy Yard Building 197 contributed to a "communication gap" and created hours of uncertainty for families of victims of the Sept. 16, 2013, shooting rampage at the base, according to interviews and a review by the News4 I-Team.
Douglass Gaarde, whose wife Kathy was among the 12 employees shot and killed inside Building 197, told the I-Team he wasn’t notified of Kathy’s death until after 8 p.m., about 12 hours after the shootings. Gaarde said his wife and her colleagues were restricted from carrying cellphones inside the headquarters of Naval Sea Systems Command, the Navy Yard’s Building 197. He said his inability to communicate with his wife contributed to a grueling uncertainty about her fate.
The I-Team’s review of Pentagon reports found at least one other family wasn’t formally notified about their loved one’s death until after midnight, in the early hours of Sept. 17.
A Naval official said the agency is reviewing its cellphone restrictions for employees of Building 197, once the facility reopens in February. But he said the September shooting rampage is not the reason behind the agency’s review.
Gaarde said he wasn’t concerned about his inability to reach his wife by phone in the immediate hours after the shootings, because of the phone restrictions. He eventually drove to the parking lot of Nationals Park in southwest D.C. where military officials were bussing Building 197 employees to be reunited with their families.
"Every bus that came, she wasn’t on it," Gaarde said. "The anxiety just started exploding. I was just walking up and down. I was just pacing. I don’t know how many times."
He would send an email to News4 seeking assistance locating his wife at 5 p.m. Sept. 16, about nine hours after the shootings:
From: Douglass Gaarde
> The number they have published for family members is useless. I
> called several hours ago and all they did was take my name and
> telephone number and said they would call if they heard anything. My
> wife works on the 4th floor of Bldg 197 and I have heard nothing from
> her since she left for work at
> 5:00 am. You would think thy would at least allow the workers to let
> loved ones know they are ok.
Gaarde said he was ultimately notified about his wife’s death when an FBI agent pulled him into an office inside Nationals Park.
The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, in its formal review of the shootings, found the cellphone policies inside Building 197 created a potential "communications gap" impacting emergency responders. The report said, "Depending on their work assignment, many employees were not allowed to take their mobile phones into the building. There were several large lockers at the entrance of the building in which employees were to lock their mobile phones prior to entering the building through the turnstiles. Several employees either disregarded the policy, or it did not apply to their position, as they were able to make 911 calls from their mobile phones, which were received by the city’s OUC call center rather than the Navy Yard."
"Due to the nature of the Naval Sea System Command's (NAVSEA) work and the fact that most modern cellular telephones are capable of taking photographs and recording audio, the command prohibited their possession of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) inside the building," Navy spokesman Rory O’Connor said in a statement to the I-Team. "This policy was created and implemented to protect information vital to our national interests."
O’Connor said the agency is revising its cellphone policies to allow broader use of phones in "select areas." But he said, "This policy change is not driven by the tragic events of September 16."
Gaarde and his wife were married almost 40 years before her death. She was the eighth victim to be killed, he said. Details of the shooting indicate she was standing at her desk, attempting to turn away from the gunman, when she killed, he said.