September 19, 2013

'I felt him breathe': Escape from the Navy Yard

The Associated Press

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In this photo, which The AP obtained from Don Andres, shooting victim Vishnu Pandit is assisted on the sidewalk while awaiting the arrival of emergency medical personnel after coworkers took him by car from the Washington Navy Yard to receive medical attention Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, in Washington. Pandit died of his injuries. (AP Photo/Don Andres)

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Lavern eased her friend to the pavement. His pulse was gone.

Across the street, James Birdsall was having his morning coffee in his office on the 11th floor at Parsons, an engineering company. As he and his colleagues watched the police cars screaming toward the Navy Yard, Birdsall noticed a man lying down on the street corner below at New Jersey Avenue and M Street.

Birdsall assumed someone had had a heart attack. His company had trained him to use a defibrillator but the man was all the way across the street and there was already a woman giving CPR.

"But I thought, 'If don't do this now, I'm going to look back and say I should have,'" Birdsall said Thursday.

So he grabbed the defibrillator and ran. The 11-floor elevator ride seemed to take especially long. The run through the lobby and across the intersection remain a blur.

Birdsall knelt at Pandit's head while Lavern pumped at his chest. That image was among the first to surface from the Navy Yard shooting Monday in a photo that was taken by congressional staffer Don Andres and circulated on Twitter by Tim Hogan, a spokesman for Rep. Steve Horsford, D-Nev.

Almost immediately, there were questions about what it showed. Was it really a shooting victim? If so, how did he get blocks from the scene? There was speculation that someone had a heart attack, unrelated to the chaos blocks away.

But Birdsall saw the gunshot wound to Pandit's head. He attached the defibrillator's two pads to the man's chest.

The machine said not to administer a shock, Lavern said. So she continued giving CPR.

Others came to help and Lavern kept talking to her friend. Birdsall could tell that from the way she kept saying his name that she knew him well.

Within two minutes of being dispatched, an ambulance arrived. Lavern asked to go to the hospital with him but a detective told her she needed to give a police report instead. She removed Pandit's badge and gave it to rescue workers so they would know who he was.

The Associated Press had distributed two photos Andres took on Monday but hours later withdrew the photos until it could be verified they were related to the Navy Yard shootings. The AP reissued the photos along with this story.

Pandit was pronounced dead on arrival at George Washington University Hospital, where Dr. Babak Sarani, the hospital's director of trauma and acute care surgery, called the injury "not survivable."

Lavern, a mother of one from Stafford, Va., attended Pandit's funeral on Thursday.

"He was a good friend," she said. "He was the sweetest man."

Her husband, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Randall Lavern, said he wasn't surprised at her actions.

"That's my wife," he said. "She's always the one running to help."

 

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