What happened: 4-hour search finds no threat after report of shooter at Wright-Patt

Col. Patrick MIller, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, addresses the media in a 2 a.m. press conference outside the Hope Hotel. A four-hour investigation found no active shooter on the base after an initial report. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
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Col. Patrick MIller, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, addresses the media in a 2 a.m. press conference outside the Hope Hotel. A four-hour investigation found no active shooter on the base after an initial report. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

Shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday evening, two people approached the security desk at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. They informed a security officer they thought they heard one gunshot.

What followed was an intense four-hour search through, and clearing of, the three-story, 850,000-square-foot NASIC complex, a big, secure structure with a 24-hour workforce that defies quick or easy walk-throughs.

At least two sweeps of the complex were conducted, each taking about two hours.

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“There’s not a single master key that gets you through the door of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center,” said Col. Patrick Miller, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing, the unit which acts as landlord to Wright-Patterson, one of the nation’s biggest Air Force bases.

In the end, no shooter was found, no one was hurt, arrested or detained, base leaders said. And it is believed that the report of a gunshot was made in good faith.

The event happened two days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, at a time when base security personnel have been training to deal with unexpected threats, as they routinely do.

ExploreFIRST REPORT: Wright-Patt commander: no threat, no injuries found after gunshot report

“Whether this happens on Sept. 10th, Sept. 11th or another day, the response doesn’t change,” Miller said. “Our defenders, our first responders, are trained to do this whenever it occurs. It just so happens that tomorrow is Sept. 11.”

On Sept. 2, base personnel were told to avoid the base’s Area A, where a training exercise had been expected to impact utilities like water, power and sewer service.

“The drill continues a series of exercises this year designed to ensure base agencies are fully trained and able to quickly respond to real-world emergencies,” the base said days before that exercise.

ExploreAug. 30 story: Wright-Patt plans exercise that could result in Area A utility, power outages

“It’s been a long night, the team has been working hard, but I’m happy to report that no threat has been identified,” Miller told reporters outside the Hope Hotel just outside the base fence shortly after 2 a.m. Friday.

What happens next will be a “follow-on investigation,” he said.

“We’re going to learn from this, get better from this.”

‘An active shooter event’

What follows is an account of the evening’s events Miller provided to reporters Friday morning.

After the initial report of what was thought to be a gunshot, a NASIC security employee “called in to our base defense operations center and reported an active shooter event,” Miller said.

That kicked off a lockdown of Wright-Patterson.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A lockdown meant most vehicles were not permitted to leave or enter the Greene County installation. Workers and residents still on the base in the evening were encouraged to remain where they were.

“We want to make sure everybody kind of hunkers down,” the commander said. “Folks have trained for this. They know if they’re in their house, in a facility, you lock your doors, you get away from your windows, you close your blinds — and you wait to hear the ‘all clear.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”

From about that point, every five minutes, the base’s aptly named “giant voice” public address system announced “lockdown, lockdown, lockdown,” a pronouncement that could be heard off base in parts of Fairborn until about 1:40 a.m., when an “all clear” signal was given, ending the lockdown.

Inside NASIC, the situation was likely tense at times. Miller described a workforce of about 100 employees “barricading themselves inside rooms, locking doors, closing windows, doing all those types of things and waiting for our security forces to come in and clear that facility.”

Several patrols responded to the NASIC center and began “methodically clearing the facility — room by room by room.”

The process took time. Workers were safely evacuated, despite “anxiety and emotion,” Miller said.

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“We’re super proud of both the folks who hunkered down inside the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, as well those defenders and first responders who got in there and swept to make sure everybody was safe,” the colonel said. “That was the most important thing in an event like this.”

“Threat exists or not, this is a very real event,” he emphasized. “So it’s real until it’s over.”

‘It needed to be reported’

The event was taken seriously throughout the evening.

Miller said he was “absolutely” confident the first report was made in earnest.

“In talking to the watch, the security forces member that was on watch, their interaction with the two members who reported hearing the gunshot, the post interviews as the security forces were doing the investigations, talking to those members — when you’re excited, when you’re nervous, when you’re anxious, it’s hard to hide that stuff,” Miller said.

“All of the mannerisms, all of the tone, all the actions that they were taking, gave all indications that this was a pure, this was a true concern that they had, they heard a gunshot, and it needed to be reported,” he added.

Work remains, the commander said.

“We will continue to look into this, kind of peel it back, we’ll get a fresh set of eyes on it tomorrow, bring everybody in after the energy level, the excitement is kind of tampered down,” Miller said. “And kind of get at it with a cool head, make sure that everything is as we thought it was tonight.”

In a video posted on Facebook Friday afternoon, Miller said:

“We’re still working through the investigation piece, because obviously that was not a gunshot that those individuals heard. We are trying to sort through what that may have been.”

Memories of 2018

For some, the late-night event was remindful of an August 2018 daytime situation at Wright-Patterson, when a false alarm report resulted from a misunderstanding as simultaneous training exercises happened on base — an active shooter training drill at Kitty Hawk Chapel and a mass casualty exercise held by the 88th Medical Group at the base Medical Center.

Reports later indicated that organizers of the exercises had not necessarily coordinated with each other or base personnel.

“While realism is important in training exercises, all personnel must be always be fully aware of exercise vs. real-world situations,” a base report later found. “Coordinating with all concerned organizations and then sticking with the agreed upon plan is essential to keeping everyone fully aware.”

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When a worker called 911 for an injured runner on that day in 2018, confusion cascaded. The base was locked down, and federal, state and local first responders from the Dayton area responded, a response that created an additional level of activity for base personnel.

Responders from the 88th Security Forces Squadron breached a locked door in the hospital by firing rounds from an M4 carbine through the door’s window. This caused new 911 calls.

One security forces airman received minor injuries when the door was shot. A base spokesman said at the time that an Airman received minor lacerations from metal fragments.

“I will tell you, what we learned from that report from the 2018 incident that happened at our Medical Center fed into our training that led us to be able to respond the way we responded today,” Miller said Friday. “So we take those lessons learned, everything we’ve seen from there, and we strengthened our relationship with partners in the surrounding community.”