More than a year after a Navy corpsman shot two shipmates before being gunned down on a Maryland Army base, the sea service and federal investigators have provided scant details regarding what led to the incident.
But Frederick, Maryland, police records obtained by Navy Times in response to a public records request provide a fresh glimpse into the chaos that erupted when 38-year-old Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Fantahun G. Woldesenbet started firing the morning of April 6, 2021.
One theme stands out: This could have been so much worse, and could have at several points evolved into the recent type of mass shooting that has come to plague America.
While police records shed light on how the shooting went down, they offer little in terms of Woldesenbet’s motive, other than shipmate observations that he was grappling with a stalled career and facing potential separation for not advancing in the ranks.
The FBI and Navy declined requests for comment for this report, as well as public records requests that could further illuminate reasons for the shooting.
But the police records Navy Times did obtain suggest that Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Carlos Portugal and Hospital Corpsman Casey Nutt, both shot in the incident, could have died at Woldesenbet’s hand, as could have a third sailor — who was working with them at the off-base warehouse in Maryland that morning — and several civilian bystanders.
At one point, Woldesenbet’s handgun jammed as he pointed and fired twice at Portugal.
Moments later, Woldesenbet would chase Nutt, already suffering from a gunshot wound to the neck, across a Frederick, Maryland, intersection, firing his long gun at the junior sailor from his car as civilians made their way to work and attempted to speed away from the gunfire.
Nutt begged passersby for help and was at one point dragged a short distance by a car, according to the records.
After the shooting, Woldesenbet sped onto Fort Detrick, Maryland, after a lane barrier at the gate failed to deploy, and was soon killed by base police.
Navy officials identified both Nutt and Portugal shortly after the shooting. Neither of them could be reached for comment for this report, but Navy Times requested that public affairs officials contact both men to inform them of this report before publication.
‘Trying his hardest to get promoted’
Woldesenbet’s attack and death by base police gunfire all occurred within less than an hour that morning.
He shot his shipmates at an off-base warehouse leased by the Navy in the 8400 block of Progress Court in Frederick, Maryland, a nondescript office park less than five miles from Fort Detrick, where he was assigned as a lab technician at a Navy medical facility.
Police were called to the scene at 8:24 a.m., and after shooting Portugal and Nutt, Woldesenbet sped to the base.
Base security and municipal cops tried to stop him at the gate and raised the lane barriers, but one of the barriers to the outbound lanes didn’t raise correctly. Woldesenbet was able to hop the median in his vehicle and enter the installation, where police fatally shot him.
He was pronounced dead at 9:06 a.m.
Frederick, Maryland, police records show that Nutt recalled from his hospital bed that the shooter had been in the Navy a decade but had not advanced beyond E-4.
Woldesenbet, a native of Ethiopia, was a “family man” with a “docile temperament” who also had a “speech barrier,” Nutt recalled, according to police records.
“During schooling, some of the instructors would give him a hard time, to help him, but Fantahun Woldesenbet was confused,” an officer wrote, summarizing Nutt’s statement. “He knew Fantahun Woldesenbet has been trying his hardest to get promoted.”
The day before the shooting, Nutt recalled, Woldesenbet “seemed fine.”
Woldesenbet did not have any major disciplinary issues and hadn’t threatened anyone directly before the shooting, Nutt said.
Still, Nutt relayed, Woldesenbet realized he was likely going to get separated from the Navy since he wasn’t advancing up the ranks.
In June, officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore wrote an email contained in the Frederick, Maryland, police records indicating that the officers who shot Woldesenbet would not be charged.
“Woldesenbet failed to stop at the entrance to the installation,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office official wrote. “When confronted by police inside the installation, the member was wielding a long gun that he refused to put down and acted in a threatening/aggressive manner. By all accounts, this was a justified use of deadly force. I have not heard any press or public outcry to the contrary.”
‘He is going to kill me’
Police responding that morning found Nutt in the bathroom of a nearby business, shot and bleeding from the neck.
The sailor told officers that they were there to palletize some warehouse stores that day, and they got to work around 8 a.m.
He recalled seeing Woldesenbet in his car outside, and how the sailor said something “unintelligible” to him before they got to work, but that he ignored it.
The chaotic chronology of events isn’t entirely clear in the police records, as they consist of police summaries of interviews and responses, and it remains unclear precisely when Nutt was shot.
Inside the warehouse, “Nutt heard a gunshot and someone yell ‘wooah,’” one officer wrote.
“Nutt took cover around some boxes at the front of the warehouse,” the report continues. “At this time, Portugal ran back up front of the warehouse and is shot. Nutt observed Portugal on the ground, and heard another shot while he was taking cover.”
Nutt reported that Woldesenbet was firing a rifle, and that “the suspect took a shot at him.”
At one point, a man sitting in his car in the building’s rear reported that “he saw the shooter run out of the rear entrance with a rifle, put the rifle in the car, and run back into the building with a handgun.”
“While the shooter was inside the building, (the witness) advised he heard about 6 shots.”
Another sailor working the warehouse that day told police he saw Woldesenbet enter the rear of the warehouse and produce “what he believed was a semi-automatic .45 caliber handgun,” one officer wrote.
That sailor watched Woldesenbet charge the firearm’s slide and “point it at Portugal while pulling the trigger twice.”
“(The sailor) stated that the firearm did not go off, and must have malfunctioned,” the officer wrote. “(Woldesenbet) charged the slide of his handgun again and shot twice at Portugal,” causing the petty officer to run behind another sailor who was a witness but never publicly named.
Woldesenbet began chasing Portugal around the barriers inside as the other sailor fled out the rear.
“(The other sailor) next ran down the parking lot of the building and tried warning other people of the active shooter, but no one took him seriously,” an officer wrote.
Still hiding, Nutt spied a front window shattered by Woldesenbet’s rounds, and jumped out of it, running toward the road and trying to call 911.
A construction worker told police he saw a camouflage-clad white man running from the scene and yelling for help.
At some point, Woldesenbet got into his car and pursued Nutt.
The construction worker said “he observed what appeared to be a Black male driving a black sedan point a long unknown black rifle out of the vehicle and begin shooting at the white male,” an officer later wrote.
Surveillance video from the business showed the injured sailor running across the street from the warehouse location.
“At the intersection, the victim makes contact with multiple cars passing by, however nobody stops to help him,” the officer later wrote, recounting the footage’s contents. “At one point, the victim grabbed onto a car as the vehicle continued to drive away, causing him to be dragged for a short distance before falling to the ground.”
Another witness reported seeing “the shooter” drive up to the intersection and fire “3 to 4 rounds out of the driver side window at the person asking for help,” according to police records.
Nutt recalled seeing Woldesenbet in a car just behind the car he flagged down for help, but told officers the harrowing ordeal was blurry.
Another witness saw Nutt running toward the intersection, “holding his neck.”
That witness noticed a black car circling the intersection.
“(The witness) could see a rifle pointing out the driver’s window of the black car, and heard one shot,” officers wrote.
“I’ve been shot!” another witness reported hearing the man in the Navy camouflage screaming.
Another motorist reported the injured sailor repeatedly saying, “he is going to kill me” and seeing the suspect vehicle hook a U-turn in the middle of the road before chasing the sailor into the business where police eventually found Nutt.
One woman reported seeing a Black man in Navy or Marine Corps fatigues holding a rifle out of his car window.
She next saw “a white male covered in blood wearing the same fatigue uniform running toward her car while on his cell phone,” an officer wrote.
“The victim came around (the woman’s) car and started pulling on her passenger door handle while screaming for help,” the officer continued. “(The woman) looked to her left again and observed the shooter getting ready to point the rifle at her and the victim.”
“(The woman) told the victim ‘Sorry’ and she sped away in her vehicle while hearing more shots.”
After that, Nutt got up and ran into the business where police found him.
The black car then waited outside the building for several minutes, one witness said, “as if the driver was waiting for the victim to come back out of the building.”
“Eventually, the driver of the black car casually pulled forward, stopped at the intersection, and turned, leaving the area,” the officer wrote.
Nutt told police that they were assigned to Fort Detrick, Maryland, and an officer radioed to request a lockdown of the base, which was about five miles away, as Woldesenbet could be heading there, according to records.
There, Woldesenbet was fatally shot by base police.
The junior sailor was flown to a shock trauma center in Baltimore. One bullet punctured his neck but exited the other side, and he also suffered a grazing wound to his left shoulder and a right inner thigh injury, according to records.
Navy officials reported that he was released from the hospital that night.
Portugal was found at the warehouse with multiple gunshot wounds, according to police records.
The petty officer was soon flown to a Baltimore shock trauma center, according to an officer who escorted him.
At the hospital, the officer wrote, a doctor reported that there were “10 holes in the body of the victim Portugal from the gun shots” in his right trapezius, right clavicle, right flank, left hand, left leg, lower back and just left of his spine.
Later that morning, a SWAT team assembled outside Woldesenbet’s Frederick apartment.
“A woman opened the door and I told her to come to me,” one officer wrote. “She was holding a child and frozen in fear. I grabbed and moved her out of the door. I then quickly patted her down. She was concerned about another child in the apartment. The child came to the door and I picked him up. I then moved him out of the way.”
“It was clear that the woman spoke little to no English and could not provide any valuable information,” the officer added.
Whether Woldesenbet legally acquired the handgun and rifle used in the rampage remains unclear, and the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service have declined to answer any questions about the sailor’s motives or backstory.
But Frederick, Maryland, police searched Woldesenbet’s apartment and found a concealed carry license from Washington state, where Navy records show he was assigned from 2015–2018.
Police records do not indicate what type of rifle Woldesenbet used in the shooting. But witnesses described him wielding a handgun and a long gun, and an instruction manual for a Ruger AR-556 military-style rifle was found at his residence.
FBI spokesman Sutton Roach provided a statement to Navy Times earlier in 2022 that did not answer several questions sent to the bureau, including whether their probe is complete or whether anything has been learned about Woldesenbet’s motives.
NCIS referred questions to the FBI.
In addition to declining to answer any questions about the near-mass shooting, the FBI and NCIS have also denied Navy Times’ Freedom of Information Act records requests for their investigations into the incident.
The FBI wrote in its response that the release of such records could hinder an ongoing criminal investigation into the dead sailor-turned-shooter.
NCIS initially indicated it would release such records, but later said in May that it was awaiting approval from another federal agency before releasing.
Navy Times is appealing those denials.
NCIS and FBI agents interviewed individuals later that month at the Frederick, Maryland, police station, but officials redacted the content of those interviews.
Navy Times is appealing those redactions.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.