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Airman, 27, struck by bullets during Pensacola Naval base attack speaks out


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An airman who was shot and injured after a Saudi military student opened fire at Navy Station Pensacola on Friday is speaking out about the harrowing experience for the first time. 

Ryan Blackwell, 27, who remains in intensive care after being shot in his pelvis and his right arm, was one of the eight people wounded in the attack carried out by Mohammed al-Shamrani. 

Speaking with Pensacola News Journal on Saturday, Blackwell revealed that he was inside his office on the first floor along with two colleagues when they heard gunfire break out in a nearby classroom. 

Blackwell, who processes paperwork for international students at the base, said the group quickly shut their glass door and took cover, hoping that the gunman wouldn’t come inside. 

However, al-Shamrani ‘shot straight through the door’, with bullets striking Blackwell and both his colleagues. 

Blackwell was struckas he tried to shield his female colleague from the gunfire.  His intestines were severed in the process.  

Ryan Blackwell, 27, was shot and injured on Friday when Saudi military student Mohammed al-Shamrani opened fire at Navy Station Pensacola in Florida 

The injured trio quickly realized they need to escape in case al-Shamrani came into the room, so Blackwell pried open a window with his left hand.  

‘My adrenaline was pumping so much. I wasn’t worried about being shot. I was worried about getting us to safety and getting us out of there,’ Blackwell stated. 

The three managed to jump out of the window and run to safety, despite the fact they were bleeding heavily. 

Blackwell processes paperwork for international students at the base

Blackwell processes paperwork for international students at the base 

Blackwell tied his belt around his right arm in order to stem the flow of blood.  

‘We could have been three more casualties if we didn’t escape,’ he stated.  

A friend of Blackwell’s shared a photo of the airman alongside his girlfriend, and wrote beneath the snap: ‘Ryan sheltered and protected fellow sailors, found and assisted in egress of all sailors in his office, saved lives, but was seriously wounded in the process. 

‘He is doing better and is recovering from surgery. Ryan is a great addition to our community, mentor and coach for local wrestlers, and represents the finest of Navy traditions’.

While Blackwell and his co-workers managed to escape with their lives, three others were tragically killed in the incident. 

Mohammed Haitham, 19, was named as one of the three fatalities of Friday’s shooting.

His step mother, Brenda Delgado Haitham, posted a message on Facebook which read: ‘My step son Mohammed, was one of the victims whose life was taken by a senseless coward, on Friday’s Naval- Base attack.

‘May Allah grant my husband, Mohammed’s mom, and the rest of his family, strength and patience through this.’

Her Facebook post began with a Koranic verse – Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un  – which is translated as ‘Indeed, to God we belong and to God we shall return.’

Haitham, known as ‘Mo’ to those who knew him, was a track and field star from Lakewood, Florida, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Mohammed Haitham has been identified as one of the victims of the shooting

Mohammed Haitham, 19,  was killed in the suspected terrorist shooting

He graduated from high school in 2018 and joined the Navy soon afterward. Haitham completed boot camp and was assigned to flight crew training in Florida.

Over Thanksgiving, he surprised his family by showing up at home.

‘He looked like a man all of a sudden,’ said Kim Walker, a family friend.

Evelyn Brady, his mother who herself is a Navy veteran and who now works for the Veterans’ Administration, said she was informed of her son’s death.

‘The commander of his school did call me,’ she said. 

‘He told me my son did try to stop the shooter.’  

Haitham recently returned home to surprise his family during the Thanksgiving holiday

Haitham recently returned home to surprise his family during the Thanksgiving holiday

Haitham is seen far right after his enlistment into the Navy

Haitham is seen far right after his enlistment into the Navy

Meanwhile, US Naval Academy graduate, Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, was also killed in the attack on Friday.   

In a heartbreaking tribute on Facebook, Watson’s brother wrote that he ‘saved countless lives today with his own.’ 

‘After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable. He died a hero,’ wrote brother Adam Watson. 

The assault, which is being investigated as terror-related, ended when a sheriff’s deputy killed the gunman. 

Watson was a native of Enterprise, Alabama who was actively involved in JROTC and National Honor Society in high school. 

Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, has been identified as one of the three victims killed in the shooting

Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, has been identified as one of the three victims killed in the shooting

After graduating from high school in 2014, he spent four years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he competed as part of the academy’s elite rifle team. He graduated from the academy in May and was commissioned as an ensign.

Video from the graduation ceremony shows Watson proudly taking the oath of office to defend the Constitution, as his loving parents and other family members look on.  

Watson is seen with his mother just prior to graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in May

Watson is seen with his mother just prior to graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in May

Proud friends and family members attended as Watson was commissioned as an ensign

Proud friends and family members attended as Watson was commissioned as an ensign

Proud friends and family members attended as Watson was commissioned as an ensign

Twelve people were hurt in the attack on Friday, including the two sheriff’s deputies who were the first to respond, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said. 

One of the deputies was shot in the arm and the other in the knee, and both were expected to recover, he said.

Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani was a Saudi aviator training at the U.S. naval station

The shooter Alshamrani was a second lieutenant attending the aviation school at the station. 

The Pentagon says his training with the US military began in August 2016, and was due to finish in August 2020. 

On Friday evening, the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist media, claimed they had tracked a Twitter account belonging to Alshamrani which featured a disturbing manifesto written just hours before the shooting. 

‘I’m against evil, and America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil,’ it read. 

‘I’m not against you for just being American, I don’t hate you because your freedoms, I hate you because every day you supporting, funding and committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity,’ Alshamrani wrote.

Investigators were working to determine if if the tweet was in fact written by the shooter.

An FBI investigator is seen above collecting evidence at the scene of Friday's shooting on Saturday

An FBI investigator is seen above collecting evidence at the scene of Friday’s shooting on Saturday

A massive police response is seen on the station during a lockdown for the shooting

A massive police response is seen on the station during a lockdown for the shooting

Saudis rush to try to ease US tensions after the attack 

The shooting threatened to further strain U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, as it seeks to repair its image of being a global exporter of Islamic extremism.

Perhaps most notoriously, 15 out of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals. A lawsuit by the victims’ families alleges the Saudi government also played a role in planning the attacks, which the kingdom denies. 

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz (left) talks to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at an event last month. The kingdom is seeking to distance itself from the attacker

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz (left) talks to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at an event last month. The kingdom is seeking to distance itself from the attacker

A man in a Jiddah coffee shop reads the daily Al-Madina newspaper fronted by a picture of Saudi King Salman on Saturday. The Arabic of the lead headline reads "King Salman to Donald J. Trump: the Florida shooter does not represent the Saudi people"

A man in a Jiddah coffee shop reads the daily Al-Madina newspaper fronted by a picture of Saudi King Salman on Saturday. The Arabic of the lead headline reads ‘King Salman to Donald J. Trump: the Florida shooter does not represent the Saudi people’

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia sought to distance itself from the Pensacola gunman after King Salman telephoned President Donald Trump to denounce the shooting as ‘heinous’ and pledge cooperation with American officials to investigate the incident.

The king added in the phone call on Friday that the shooter, who was gunned down by police, ‘does not represent the Saudi people’. 

Trump tweeted about the call, saying: ‘The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people.’

Trump presided in 2017 over one of the largest arms deals in history, when he agreed for the U.S. to sell Saudi weapons systems totaling US$110 billion immediately,[1][2] and $350 billion over 10 years.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday that he had spoken with Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Saud, who ‘expressed his condolences and sadness’ at the shooting.

The family of the shooter echoed the sentiment that his actions did not represent the subjects of the kingdom.

The pro-government Okaz newspaper quoted one of his uncles, Saad al-Shamrani, as saying that his actions do not reflect the ‘humanity and loyalty of his family’ to the kingdom’s leadership.

Seeking to play up their ties to America after the attack, many Saudis on social media highlighted U.S. media reports about two exchange students from Saudi Arabia who drowned last year in Massachusetts after rushing into a river to rescue two small children.

But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suggested Riyadh should offer compensation to the victims.

‘The government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims, and I think they’re going to owe a debt here given that this is one of their individuals,’ DeSantis said. 

Horror shooting unfolded in classroom building at the  Naval station 

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said a 911 call was received at 6.51am central time reporting an active shooter at the Naval station. 

Two deputies confronted the gunman inside a classroom building and exchanged gunfire, killing the perpetrator.  

It has since been revealed that the gunman was armed with a handgun.  

One of the officers suffered a gunshot wound to the arm, while the other was shot in the knee and underwent surgery. 

Morgan said both deputies are expected to recover.    

In total, eight people were taken to Baptist Health Care in Pensacola, one of whom later died.   

Law enforcement and US Navy officials declined to release any information concerning the identities of the shooter and the victims pending the notification of next of kin. 

Police vehicles block the entrance to the Pensacola Air Base on Friday after the shooting

Police vehicles block the entrance to the Pensacola Air Base on Friday after the shooting

The USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) is seen arriving for a port visit at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola in a file photo

The USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) is seen arriving for a port visit at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola in a file photo

Commanding officer Timothy Kinsella said the station’s security forces first responded to the shooting before outside police agencies arrived. 

The facility, which is used for training and made up mostly of classrooms, ‘is shut down until further notice,’ he said.

Sheriff Morgan said the crime scene was spread over two floors, which were left littered with spent shell casings. 

‘Walking through the crime scene was like being on the set of a movie,’ he revealed.  

Federal agencies are investigating, authorities said, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.    

St. John’s Catholic School, located directly outside the air station, was placed on lockdown as a precaution.   

Twenty ‘hand-picked’ Saudi airmen training at Pensacola are among the 62,700 foreign military personnel the US trains each year

In the 2018 fiscal year, some 62,700 foreign military students from 155 countries participated in U.S.-run training, the total cost of which was approximately $776.3 million, according to DoD records. 

Among them is a contingent Saudis who recently arrived at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

In recent weeks, 18 naval aviators and two aircrew members from the Royal Saudi Naval Forces were training with the U.S. Navy, including a stint at Pensacola, according to a November 15 press release from the Navy. 

It was not clear if the suspected shooter was part of that delegation.

The delegation came under a Navy program that offers training to U.S. allies, known as the Naval Education and Training Security Assistance Field Activity.

A person familiar with the program said that Saudi Air Force officers selected for military training in the United States are intensely vetted by both countries.

The Saudi personnel are ‘hand-picked’ by their military and often come from elite families, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to speak to a reporter. Trainees must speak excellent English, the person said.

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington did not respond to questions. 

Saudi Arabia, a major purchaser of U.S. arms, accounts for a massive portion of America’s spending on foreign military training.

In the 2018 fiscal year, the U.S. trained 1,753 Saudi military members at an estimated cost of $120,903,786, according to DoD records. 

For fiscal year 2019, the State Department planned to train roughly 3,150 Saudis in the U.S.  

-Keith Griffith for DailyMail.com and Reuters 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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