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Early meeting varied Navy Yard routine


Staff writer

If it weren’t for an early meeting, Marcus Ellis’ day could have ended much differently.

By 6 a.m., he usually leaves home in Mechanicsville, and by about 7:15, arrives at the Navy Yard’s Building 197. He gets settled at his desk and reads email. A few minutes after 8 a.m., Ellis said, “I’m usually in that cafeteria at that time buying a cup of coffee.” It’s the same cafeteria where suspected shooter Aaron Alexis allegedly fired a barrage of shots Monday, making his way through other parts of the building and killing 12. Among those killed was Frank Kohler, 50, of Tall Timbers.

Ellis’ meeting was scheduled at 8. But, he said, the team of nine couldn’t get into the room where they’d initially planned their talk. So, they went to a separate conference area, one that happened to be farther away from the third-floor hallway.

“It was definitely a blessing,” Ellis said. Not long after that, he said, shots were heard there. Soon, his adrenaline was pumping and, with his team, Ellis said he was taking steps to protect his life.

Around 8:20, “We heard a loud noise. It sounded more like construction banging.” Shortly after that, Ellis said, the team heard the noise again. A woman got up to check.

“The lady yelled, ‘Shots!’” he said. Team members hit the floor, closed the door and used chairs to barricade themselves in. They used tables for additional shield. “I was a little scared, nervous and just thinking, ‘This is real.’”

Somewhere in the frenzy, Ellis said, he prayed. And somewhere during it all, two buckshot pellets came through the room. One of them, Ellis said, hit him in the forehead. It hurt, even more so as the hours went on. But, he said, after the ammo passed through the office walls, “the velocity of the buckshot was slowed down and it didn’t penetrate ... That’s the part that I really haven’t processed yet,” Ellis said.

“There could have been multiple paths that led us to be in the hallway,” he said. “From leaving the meeting or trying to evacuate ourselves. The Lord didn’t allow us to be directly in harm’s way.”

Eventually, a SWAT team was banging on the door. The team evacuated them to a parking garage where he estimated about 300 to 400 people were waiting.

Some were hysterical because of what they’d seen that day. Ellis said at some point, he’d injured his knee and he was given a medical chair and ice for the swelling. Later, Ellis said, he was transported with others to Nationals Park. He went through interviews with authorities and a day’s worth of waiting. His wife stayed in the Waldorf area, and came to pick him up from the stadium by about 5 p.m., he said.

By about 6, they were back in Mechanicsville. Ellis, an acting product support manager at the Navy Yard, has two boys ages 12 and 8. His daughter is 4. That night, he said, he hugged her longer than usual.

Meanwhile, the Navy at Patuxent River Naval Air Station has heightened security, although no related threat has been anticipated.