Finally — six months after it happened — we have been told a few pieces of information about two shootings last spring, first at a Frederick business park where a sailor stationed at Fort Detrick wounded two fellow service members, and then at the fort where the shooter was killed by civilian officers.
Last week, Frederick police confirmed that the first shooting, where the two service members were wounded, was targeted. But the FBI, the Army and the city police refused to provide any more information.
As a result, many questions remain unanswered.
This is what we know, according to police and initial reports: On April 6, Fantahun Girma Woldesenbet, a Navy corpsman, shot two fellow service members with a rifle at a warehouse on Progress Drive. The Naval Medical Research Center confirmed the victims and Woldesenbet worked together.
After shooting the men, Woldesenbet drove to Fort Detrick and was able to get through a gate on to the post. He was shot and killed by civilian police at Fort Detrick when he showed a weapon.
The first substantial update on the shooting since April was released Oct. 20 by Frederick Police confirming that the men shot at the warehouse were specifically targeted.
But that barely scratches the surface of what is still unknown. What about the motive and details of the relationship between the shooter and victims?
And virtually nothing has been released on the events that took place after the shooter drove to the fort.
News-Post reporter Mary Grace Keller asked the FBI a series of questions, including these:
- What was Woldesenbet planning to do once he got to Fort Detrick?
- Where did he get the gun?
- How did he get past the gate into Fort Detrick?
- How have gates been fortified since the shooting? How has Fort Detrick changed its security, if at all?
- What did Woldesenbet say to the employee at the gate before he drove through?
- Did authorities investigate the Fort Detrick police officer who fatally shot Woldesenbet? Did they find it was a justified lethal shooting?
- Was there any indication that Woldesenbet would become violent? Did he have any disciplinary issues in the past the military was aware of?
The only response? The FBI confirmed the base shooting was investigated and a report was given to the U.S. Attorney. No other details were provided.
In announcing the fact that the shooting was targeted, Lt. Jon Holler, commander of the city’s Criminal Investigations Division, said in a written statement:
“The Frederick Police Department typically does not release investigative information while cases are open. However, due to the intense public scrutiny of this case we can confirm that detectives determined this event to be a targeted incident and was not a random shooting.”
Under the federal Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts, the News-Post requested access to records regarding the April 6 events from the investigating agencies. Fort Detrick referred the News-Post to the FBI, which denied the paper’s request. FPD also denied the News-Post’s request for a copy of the investigative report.
Fort Detrick’s leaders seem either unaware of or unconcerned about the effect on our community of this news blackout. A lack of real information inevitably leads to the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Holler was right about the intensity of public scrutiny.
The fort has had numerous communications problems over the years, on issues ranging from pollution of groundwater to the safety of the base’s labs after one was closed for several months by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of quality control failures.
The result has been a great deal of mistrust and widespread, unfounded speculation on what is really happening at the base.
This is a tragic, preventable problem for Detrick and its leadership. Fort Detrick is an important, valued pillar of the Frederick County economy, an important employer itself and generator of jobs. But it needs to do a better job of reaching out to the community when problems occur.