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Navy: Walter Reed active shooter event result of improper use of mass notification system

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. (Photo, ABC7)

Hours after authorities gave the all clear at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, questions lingered about exactly how Tuesday’s security scare took place.

Fueling the frustration: a series of conflicting explanations from military officials, some sent out just 30 minutes apart.

“I’m going to check with the Department of Defense to find out who is in charge of this and why did it happen this way, because people could have been hurt. A lot of anxiety that we didn’t need to have,” said longtime Maryland Congressman, Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, who happened to be visiting the campus when it all played out.

The incident started at about 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Montgomery County Police initially said they were called to assist with a report of a possible active shooter at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

At 3:25 p.m., the U.S. Navy tweeted “no active shooter”, instead saying it “was an ad hoc drill by tenant command”.

But at 4 p.m., Naval Support Activity Bethesda sent out a tweet that called the incident a “false alarm, and not part of a scheduled drill as has been reported”.

Then at 5:56 p.m., a new statement from the Navy blamed the scare on an “improper use” of a mass notification system. Essentially, the Navy said that while preparing for an upcoming drill, the alert system was activated without using the words “EXERCISE” or “DRILL”.

Department of Defense spokesperson, Lt. Col. Audricia Harris had also previously announced that the Walter Reed incident was an exercise.

Ruppersberger tweeted that he had to shelter in place during the ordeal, and was "safe in a conference room w/ approx 40 others" because he was told there was an active shooter. He added that "at no point" was it indicated that the incident was a drill.

ABC7 News heard similar concerns from patients and staff at the hospital.

“I kind of wish the hospital, if it was a drill, that it had been communicated better,” said one staffer. “I think there are more unanswered questions than there are answered questions.”

Ruppersberger said he plans to demand those answers in the coming days.

This is the Navy’s full statement, released Tuesday evening in regards to the active shooter scare:

"The active shooter event aboard Naval Support Activity Bethesda today 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. On further investigation, they determined that the improper use of the system was the root cause and secured from the active-shooter response."

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