Shooter targeting Marine Corps facilities could be ex-marine

The shots fired at the Marine Corps museum overnight mark the fourth shooting of a Marine Corps-linked facility this month. But authorities say individual marines don't appear to be at risk.

Luis M. Alvarez/AP
Traffic on Interstate 95 heads toward the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., Friday. Police in Virginia are investigating an overnight shooting at the museum, the fourth shooting at military buildings in the Washington area.

Authorities seem increasingly convinced that a shooter who is targeting Marine Corps facilities is a disgruntled former service member.

But officials are going out of their way to reassure current marines that they personally are likely not the target of the gunman's ire.

The fourth in a series of apparently related shootings happened overnight Thursday. It was the second time in recent weeks that the shooter has fired on the Marine Corps museum in Triangle, Va. The other targets have been the Pentagon and a Marine Corps recruiting center in Chantilly, Va.

Regarding the most recent incident, a Prince William County police spokesman said that the shots were fired from Interstate 95, a major East Coast highway, sometime between 9 p.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday.

The timing of the shootings is particularly significant, authorities say, since all have occurred in the middle of the night or early morning when no one would reasonably expected to be on the premises.

“We do not believe there is an intention to harm innocent citizens or marines,” said John Perren, the acting assistant director of the FBI Washington field offices, during a press conference.

Frustration with Marine Corps?

The FBI does believe, however, that the shooter likely feels deeply frustrated by the Marine Corps.

Mr. Perren added, “The subject of his grievance does appear to be the institution of the Marine Corps and not the individual men and women marines for whom he may feel a great deal of respect, admiration, and even loyalty."

This last statement reflects an effort to reassure service members who may feel on edge or targeted, particularly after the Pentagon Force Protection Agency made the decision to beef up security of Sunday’s Marine Corps Marathon, which generally attracts more than 30,000 runners, many of whom are current and former US service members.

“We’re obviously keenly aware of the incidents – and we’re on heightened awareness for the marathon," says Chris Layman, spokesman for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency. "We’ll be there – we’re prepared. We feel we have a good security plan.”

The latest shooting comes on the heels of FBI ballistics tests, which confirmed that shootings at the Pentagon on Oct. 19 – as well as the first shooting at the Marine Corps museum Oct. 17 and at the Marine Corps recruiting center in Chantilly earlier this week – are all linked by one weapon. Ballistics tests on the overnight shooting Thursday are expected to be no different.

'This is sad'

But the threat of violence, while diffuse, may be particularly worrisome for veterans and troops just back from war zones, psychologists say.

“This can be very anxiety-provoking for people who have served in combat,” says Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist who founded Give an Hour, a national network of mental health professionals who are providing free counseling to US troops and their families.

“To me this is the most compelling part of the story: What do these shootings do to the men and women who are serving their country and have served in theater?" she adds. "These are the places, like the Pentagon, that are supposed to be places of safety. And for troops to feel as if they have to be afraid – this is sad.”

And although the attacks on buildings do not appear to be targeting people, Perren said, the shootings remain dangerous – and risky. “Acting out in this way,” he added, “can eventually lead to disastrous and tragic consequences that we all wish to avoid.”

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