PENSACOLA, Fla. – On Friday morning, the national anthem did not play over the Naval Air Station Pensacola loud speaker system – an anomaly to neighbors and Navy officials alike.

Residents in Navy Point and in the neighborhoods up and down South Navy Boulevard are accustomed to hearing the anthem at 8 a.m. sharp every day. But Friday, the silence reflected the stunned and shaken nearby community in the hours after a shooting at the base that killed three victims and injured at least eight others. The shooter was also shot and killed.

Those wondering about the safety of their loved ones who were on the base at the time of the shooting made calls, posted to social media or flocked to the base in person with their concerns.

A base spokesman confirmed the names of the victims will not be released until 24 hours after the next of kin have been notified.

Anxieties, rumors swirl at shop near base

Early Friday morning, a small parking lot for the Wings & Things Monogramming shop, located less than a mile from NAS Pensacola, was packed with military members and swirling with rumors.

The shop receives nearly all its business from members of the military, and owner Irene Speed has stitched name tags and squadron patches, as well as rips and tears, for pilots for nearly 30 years.

When Speed learned about the shooting as she was getting ready for work, her initial reaction was “just shock.” By the time she made it to work, her parking lot was packed with military members, waiting after they were unable to get on the locked down base.

“We know a lot of them,” she said.

Speed’s ties to the military are robust – outside of her customers over the years, her husband has been in the Air Force for 23 years – and her anxiety Friday morning was palpable.

As the morning progressed, she remained uneasy as news trickled out about the number of dead and wounded. There was only one piece of news that provided Speed with a little relief – that the suspect was killed.

“At least they got him and eliminated him,” she said.

Waiting to be reunited with family

Also on Friday morning, Vera Jackson anxiously sat in her black Chevrolet pickup, American flag decals on both sides and the back, inside a Shell parking lot about a quarter mile away from NAS Pensacola.

Her son, a janitor, was on the base during the lockdown after the shooting.

“I think it’s ridiculous this keeps happening in our country,” Jackson said. “It’s like a copycat thing all over the country.”

Jackson said she was rattled as she moved from business to business on Navy Boulevard, getting as close as she could to the base in anticipation of her son’s release.

“I just lost another son in September from a stroke, and naturally, when I heard this, it scared me,” she said. “Most parents – or wives or whatever – would be scared.”

Neighbors feared for their lives

Casey Jones and his girlfriend, Donna Pratt, weren’t sure if an emergency situation was unfolding on their block Friday morning when law enforcement vehicles and ambulances came zooming past their house and onto the base before 7 a.m.

“When we first started hearing all this, all the sirens, it’s like, ‘Is somebody in the neighborhood shooting it up or something?’ ” Pratt said. “I didn’t realize it was right here on the base.”

Jones and Pratt said the sidewalks up and down Navy Boulevard are a great place to watch the Blue Angels fly every July and November, but on this morning, it was an ominous place to reside, as the couple could repeatedly hear announcements over the public address system telling people on the base to seek shelter.

“You can hear all the PA announcements all morning, it’s kind of scary,” Pratt said.

Jones said the response time of first responders “amazed” him.

“I’m proud of the reaction,” Jones said. “It was a massive response.”

Mother reunited with young daughter

The base lockdown prevented young mother Tessa Hemby from reaching her 3-month-old daughter, Cheyanne, who was at the family’s home on the base when the shooting took place.

Around 9:30 a.m. Hemby frantically approached Florida Highway Patrol troopers blocking traffic on Navy Boulevard and the main gate into NAS Pensacola and yelled, “Sir, I have a 3-month-old on the base! I have to get back on the base! I have to feed my baby!”

Troopers informed Hemby they were under strict orders not to let anyone through.

Hemby said she recently moved from San Antonio to Pensacola with her husband for his first posting in the U.S. Air Force.

“Sorry, I know I acted a little bit crazy. I am a first-time mother,” she said. “I don’t know how to handle these situations yet.”

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Hemby left her daughter with her husband in their home at on base around 7 a.m. to go to an appointment, but the shooting happened as she was nearing the base’s exit.

“I was stopped right near the exit and had to remain in place, and then tons of cop cars came pouring the base,” she said, adding she was terrified for her daughter’s safety.

“I strictly breast feed my daughter, so, we don’t have formula or anything like that,” she said.

At about 10:30 a.m., the mother was reunited with he daughter.

“I called around to commander’s wives, and they thankfully were able to contact people who let me back,” she said.

Mural tribute painted on Graffiti Bridge

Just hours after the shooting at NAS Pensacola, artist Bradley Deal started work on a mural at the Graffiti Bridge to honor the victims and survivors, as well as to capture the community’s collective grief.

Deal moved to Pensacola three years ago from Alabama. He vacationed at Pensacola Beach since childhood and frequently paints on the city’s iconic bridge, adding something new about once a week.

The day before the shooting, he had just finished a painting of Chris Farley. But Friday’s shooting inspired him to return for another tribute.

The finished product featured a large heart enveloping the words NAS Pensacola and the base’s insignia on a pink background, with the words #PrayForPensacola written in black lettering.

“Obviously, the naval base is very special to this area,” Deal said. “I love Pensacola, and I love being a part of the community here.”

Pensacola resident Cheryl Glasscock drove to the mural to take photos after learning about Deal’s mural on social media. She said it provide a glimmer of a joy on an otherwise bleak day.

“I think the painting is just wonderful,” she said. “Because this is home. It hits so hard to everybody in town, not just the military.”

USA Today