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'I felt him breathe': Escape from the Navy Yard

  • In this photo, which The AP obtained from Don Andres, shooting victim Vishnu Pandit is assisted on the sidewalk while awaiting the arrival of emergency medical personnel after coworkers took him by car from the Washington Navy Yard to receive medical attention Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, in Washington. Pandit died of his injuries. (AP Photo/Don Andres)

WASHINGTON — The first bang sounded distant and muffled. On the fourth floor, Bertillia Lavern assumed somebody downstairs was setting up for an event and had dropped a folding table.

But when the bangs kept coming, Lavern recognized the sounds.

Years earlier, before taking a civilian office job at Naval Sea Systems headquarters, Lavern was a Navy medical specialist. Known as a corpsman, she'd been on training operations with the Marines. She knew the snap of gunfire.

The 39-year-old hit the ground and scurried under a desk with her supervisor in a nearby cubicle, she said. They stayed there silently as the shots continued.

From that vantage point, the building's open floor plan allowed her to view the fifth floor, where she saw someone moving.


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