Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013 | 2 a.m.
This week, Don Andres, an aide to Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford, found himself at the center of a mystery surrounding the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C., which left 12 civilians, as well as the gunman, dead.
Andres had shot a photo — the only photo, as it turned out — of one of the victims, Vishnu "Kisan" Pandit, as he struggled to survive his wounds and a co-worker desperately tried to render medical aid. But Andres, who snapped the shot on his way to work Monday morning, wasn’t entirely sure of what he’d seen. Was it a shooting victim? Or just a passerby who suffered a medical emergency?
It wasn’t until Thursday that the Associated Press — which had initially distributed and then retracted Andres’ photo, tweeted out by Horsford’s office — verified that Andres had in fact captured a horrifying moment of Monday’s tragedy from the window of his car.
As the AP eventually reported, Pandit had been shot in the head inside the Navy Yard. As he clung to life, Pandit’s co-workers evacuated him from the building and drove him to a nearby street corner where an ambulance could pick him up. Pandit, however, succumbed to the gun shot.
Andres, 24, has been with Horsford since he started in Washington at the beginning of this year. He works as a hybrid legislative correspondent and legislative aide, meaning he does everything from sort constituent mail and chauffeur the congressman to work on designing and implementing Horsford's policies in multiple areas.
We sat down with Andres to talk to him about what it was like being caught in the eye of a national tragedy, and unwittingly capturing the one shot portraying the human cost of the shooting.
You live near the Navy Yard. Tell us about that morning — did you know what was happening when you took that shot?
I was running a little late to work that morning. So I go downstairs and I notice something a little odd — there’s a lot of people outside my building, and in the lobby. And they look like they’re dressed in civilian Navy Yard worker uniforms. I’m sort of in a rush, so I ask them: “Hey, what’s going on?” And someone said: “There may be an active shooter, we were evacuated.”
But I was still set on going to work. So I walk out, go to my car, and I drive around because there’s a detour on the road. And the first thing I see is the police boats on the Anacostia, so I thought, OK, something legit, something real is happening, if the boats are out there.
I saw the man lying on the ground. That’s where I snapped those photos.
So what exactly did you see that made you decide to take the shot?
I came up to the stoplight, and for the first few seconds, I saw just him, and then I saw police, SWAT cars come barreling down M street, and a couple of cop cars peel off. They come out and beckon people to step away, they put up the caution tape and that’s when a couple of civilians run up to him — one had a little red bag with the plus sign on it — and they started to tend to him.
And then that time, I couldn’t see from my vantage point what happened to him. I didn’t know. It looked like they were basically trying to resuscitate him? So I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t even really know where the shooting was happening.
All I had was the one person who had said “active shooter.” That was my only indication — and then that’s when I texted the photos to Tim, and they proceeded to go up.
You didn’t immediately put the photos out on Twitter yourself.
You realize you do have the only photo of this or any other victim …
Which I think is crazy. I’m surprised that no one else took one. There’s a man lying on the ground. No one else has put out a picture of the victim.
Soon after your photo went viral, the Associated Press pulled it, because no one could prove until Thursday it was connected to the shooting. Did you have a gut feeling though, about what you saw?
I didn’t. The only thought I had, toward the middle of the day, was, “Well, it looked like they were trying to resuscitate him.” But there were so many questions flying out there, I started to doubt it myself. The only thing I knew was that there had been an active shooter, and there was a guy lying there. And that’s what it was the whole time until we finally found out.
I was so focused on getting to work that I really didn’t know what was going on. And it wasn’t until I started to watch the news that the fear started to sink in, that that was what happened to that guy.
You’ve lived around Navy Yard for a year. What’s it like to be in your neighborhood now? Do you feel safe there?
I’ve always felt safe there, but now that things are over — this wasn’t a normal event. I don’t imagine a lot more folks would walk into the neighborhood and start shooting it up.
I feel safe, but I feel nervous too. I mean, this week I’ve walked by, driven by that corner, and every time I go by that corner now I think, “Holy crap. A man very much could have died there, or on the way from there.” I mean, I go to that CVS all the time.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve processed it yet. It still hasn’t sunk in. I still drive by and just stare at that corner when I sit at that light.
There’s a bigger debate about gun control happening in the country that your boss has weighed in on. Do you have any thoughts about how this event you witnessed should influence that discussion?
This is really just, it is what it is. I don’t really know how this plays into that larger discussion.
Have you talked to the victim's relatives?
I haven’t, no.
On a personal note, if they felt that they would appreciate that, of course I’d reach out. They lost family. I don’t know what utility it would provide, but if it had some, I would do it for them.
In the end, they lost a loved one. I was just a bystander that happened to take a photo.
Don Andres has worked as a legislative aide and correspondent for Rep. Steven Horsford since the beginning of 2013. He is a Los Angeles native, with family in Henderson.