Active Shooter Alert Sent Out By Mistake Caused Panic at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

An active shooter drill gone wrong sparked panic, prompting a lockdown for about an hour on Tuesday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, along with conflicting messages from officials about whether the whole incident was actually a drill or not.

According to ABC News, military police tweeted out an alert around 2:15 p.m. about a possible active shooter, and were searching buildings. Police swarmed the medical center, as its gates closed and people were asked to shelter in place. Loudspeakers outside of Naval Support Activity Bethesda broadcast that the situation was not a drill.

It wasn’t until 3 p.m. that the Department of Defense confirmed that it had only been a drill. The exercise had been mistaken as an actual threat and personnel had initiated the emergency procedures, Buzzfeed News reports.

Lt. Col. Audricia Harris, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, said the event was an “exercise,” and a Navy spokesperson said it was an “ad hoc drill by tenant command.”

In a statement, the U.S. Navy said the incident was “the result of the improper use of a mass notification system by a tenant command aboard the installation.”

“While preparing for an upcoming drill, the notification system was inadvertently enacted without containing the words “EXERCISE” or “DRILL.” Individuals who saw the mass notification statement immediately notified NSA Bethesda security, where they responded accordingly and instituted an installation-wide active shooter response,” the statement said. “On further investigation, they determined that the improper use of the system was the root cause and secured from the active-shooter response.”

Mary Lock, a nurse at Walter Reed told the Associated Press the loudspeaker kept repeating “Active shooter, this is not a drill,” as she waited during the lockdown for about an hour.

Katherine Bomkamp and her husband, who is a Marine, were in the pediatric exam room with their two-year-old daughter when they began to hear the announcement about the active shooter, and nurses rushed them and other families into an occupational therapy room.

“We realized one of the doors in the room didn't lock, so my husband stood in front of the door with another man,” Bomkamp told BuzzFeed News.

When they heard voices in the hallway, which turned out to be police, Bomkamp said they “dove over the kids” to protect them. “The terror was extremely real. We were all on the phone with loved ones, trying to get text messages through.”

U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland was at Walter Reed during the active shooter confusion, and spent the duration of the lockdown in a conference room with approximately 40 other individuals. At no point was there any indication that the incident was just a drill, he said, and people were treating the event as an actual threat, ABC News reports.

“People were scared and upset. Drills are important and today was a valuable learning experience for me, but training exercises must be properly communicated,” Ruppersberger wrote on Twitter. “I will be following up to see what went wrong and how the process can be improved for the future. I’d like to thank law enforcement for their quick and professional response.”