Details emerge of Washington Navy Yard victims

Six of 12 made their homes in Maryland

September 17, 2013|By Justin George, John Fritze and Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON — — John Johnson could have retired from the Washington Navy Yard years ago, but he loved the work.

Richard Michael Ridgell, a former Maryland state trooper who helped train police in Iraq, was devoted to his daughters.

Vishnu Pandit, who came to the United States to build a better life for his family, was proud of his quarter-century working for the U.S. Navy.

All were gunned down Monday in one of the worst mass killings ever on a U.S. military installation. As investigators continued Tuesday to sift clues into the motivations of alleged shooter Aaron Alexis, details began to emerge of the women and men authorities say he shot to death.

Maryland was hit particularly hard in the attack at the naval base in Southeast Washington. Of the 12 people killed, six commuted from the state.

They are Sylvia Frasier, 53, of Waldorf; Johnson, 73, of Derwood, Frank Kohler, 50, of Tall Timbers; Pandit, 61, of North Potomac, Kenneth Proctor, 46, of Waldorf; and Ridgell, 52, recently of Owings Mills and previously of Westminster.

Also killed Monday were Martin Bodrog, 54, a Naval Academy graduate who lived in Annandale, Va.; Arthur Lee Daniels, 51, of Washington; Michael Arnold, 59, of Lorton, Va.; Kathy Gaarde, 62, of Woodbridge, Va.; Mary DeLorenzo Knight, 51, of Reston, Va.; and Gerald L. Read, 58, of Alexandria, Va.

Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday that "our hearts and prayers" are with the victims and their loved ones.

"This loss of life is tragic because there is no such thing as a spare American," O'Malley said. "Every life is needed."

Ridgell — who went by his middle name, Michael — grew up in Brooklyn in Anne Arundel County. The father of three daughters served 17 years in the Maryland State Police, and later traveled to Iraq to train the new civilian police force there.

"As always, he was protecting us in yesterday's senseless act of violence," a friend, Angie Miller, posted on his Facebook page.

A spokeswoman for the government contractor DynCorp International said Ridgell worked with the firm in Iraq from 2010 to 2011.

"Mr. Ridgell was a member of our CIVPOL program in Iraq — a program that requires law enforcement professionals to travel to remote locations, often placing themselves in harm's way, to promote stability around the world," the Falls Church, Va., company said in a statement. "His commitment to serving and bringing peace to communities here at home and abroad makes this loss all the more tragic."

Martin Herman, president of Special Response Corp., the Maryland security firm where Ridgell worked until last year, called him outgoing, and "always in a good mood … a real people person."

"Mike was a good father, a trooper," said his father-in-law, Thomas Lyons. "He loved softball, loved to play softball and coached his daughters' softball teams through this summer season."

Ridgell's Facebook page includes a picture of him with the Westminster Jaycees girls softball team, for which he was an assistant coach.

Johnson, who went by J.J., worked as an engineer at the Navy Yard. The father of four daughters and grandfather of nine, he was known in his family as the "baby whisperer" for his ability to calm crying infants.

"The sad part of this is the man who committed this horrible crime needed someone to talk to … and John would have been the kind of person he could have gone and talked to," said Rebecca Woodward, whose son married one of Johnson's daughters.

"I know that John would be the first person to forgive him," she said.

Johnson worked for a Navy engineering contractor for years, Woodward said, since the shipbuilding unit was in Crystal City, Va.

He was expecting a 10th grandchild in November.

"It's so sad that he'll not get to know this baby," Woodward said.

When Johnson wasn't horsing around with the kids, he liked to visit a beach home he and his wife own in Nags Head, N.C. Ocean fishing, Woodward said, was Johnson's "nirvana."

"He was just such a big kid," she said. "You always braced yourself when John walked in the room because there was a huge bear hug coming at you."

Pandit, who grew up in Bombay and studied marine engineering in Calcutta, came to the United States in 1974. He finished his graduate studies at the University of Michigan and used his degree in marine engineering to land a civilian job at the Navy 25 years ago.

Known to his family as Kisan, he was a father to two grown children, and a grandfather.

"It's heartbreaking," M. Nuns Jain, a longtime friend, said outside Pandit's home on a leafy street in North Potomac. "He was a fantastic person, loving, caring, very dedicated. He loved his work."

No one answered the phone at Pandit's home Tuesday, but his family released a statement describing him as a "a kind and gentle man who loved his family, friends, dog and job."

The family released a photography of Pandit with a puppy.

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