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Chattanooga shooting response: Valor in the face of terror, chaos (+video)

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Doug Strickland/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP

(Read caption) Two women mourn at a makeshift memorial near the Armed Forces Career Center, Saturday, for the victims of the July 16 shootings in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Lives were lost during Thursday’s tragic firefight in Chattanooga, Tenn.

But lives were also saved, thanks to the courage of military personnel onsite and local police officers, authorities say.

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When gunfire erupted at a military recruiting office, staff reacted quickly and calmly.

"They were being soldiers," Keith Wheatley, the property manager, a Marine himself, who arrived moments after the attack, told the Associated Press. "That's part of their job description. They know that any given time they could take fire, that's what they do. They weren't crying or upset. They were just trying to figure out what to do next."

The police officers who arrived at the scene and ultimately killed the shooter responded with similar valor.

“Officers of the Chattanooga police department rushed towards a known hostile threat, and they engaged the threat, and they put themselves between danger and the community. And they helped save lives and the city of Chattanooga,” city Police Chief Fred Fletcher told ABC News Friday.

“Our heart goes out to the victims of the Armed Forces,” he continued, “but I’m very, very proud and humbled of the sacrifice of the members of the Chattanooga police department.”

Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a Kuwait-born, naturalized American from Hixson, Tenn., opened fire Thursday on a military recruiting center and a Navy-Marine training center a few miles away, officials and witnesses say. Four US Marines were killed at the scene, and a Navy officer wounded during the attack died Saturday. Two others were injured.

Mr. Abdulazeez had a handgun and two long guns in his possession when local police located and killed him at a Navy Operational Support Center, CNN reported, and another rifle was seized when police searched his home.

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While FBI spokesman Jason Pack declined comment on whether investigators were pursuing mental health records for Abdulazeez, FBI Special Agent Ed Reinhold said that agents were looking into all aspects of the suspect’s life.

A family representative who spoke Sunday on condition of anonymity to avoid unwanted publicity told reporters that Abdulazeez had been treated for depression as a child. He had also fought drug and alcohol abuse, going to Jordan in 2014 to help clean himself up and then getting arrested in April for driving under the influence.

The family thinks those personal struggles may have been at the heart of Thursday’s killings, the representative said.

“They do not know of anything else to explain it,” according to the representative.

While they are treating the shooting as an act of domestic terrorism, officials say their initial investigation has produced no links to any other individual or terrorist group, The Christian Science Monitor’s Brad Knickerbocker reported Saturday.

President Obama said Thursday that a prompt investigation would take place, and that the White House and Department of Defense were in contact to make sure that all military installations remained vigilant.

“It is a heartbreaking circumstance for these individuals who have served our country with great valor to be killed in this fashion,” Mr. Obama said. “I also want to say that there are reports of injuries to Chattanooga local law enforcement officials.... And we want to make sure that they know that we’re thinking of them. They’re in our thoughts and prayers.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.