Regent University School of Business & Leadership alumna Jennifer Bennett woke up the morning of September 16, 2013, like she had all her life: already in prayer, with a hymn caught in her head.
She came into Building 197 of the Washington Navy Yard, where she worked as a government employee, under a tight deadline.
“I was ‘under the gun,’ so to speak,” she said, wry humor in her voice. She does this when she looks back on the day, frequently saying things like “just shoot me” to her colleagues.
“Then I’ll say, ‘Oh, they’ve already done that. I guess we can move on,’” said Bennett.
Bennett was one of 3,000 employees reporting for work on the day of the tragic Washington Navy Yard shooting, when a rogue gunman injured three and killed 12.
“Around 8:10 a.m. I heard, ‘pop, pop, pop!’ a couple of seconds later, another ‘pop, pop, pop!’”
She said the building smelled familiar, like the time there was a large computer system fire in the building earlier that year. Bennett made eye contact with a woman across the atrium who called out, “It sounds like someone is shooting! Take your people and go!” Then the fire alarm sounded.
From there, Bennett had to make several quick decisions: She could head down a stairwell that was closest to her, which at its base was blocked on either end by metal gates, surrounded by what she estimated was a six-to-eight foot brick wall – what Bennett had always referred to as a “shooting gallery.”
“You get in there and you get locked in,” she said. “I learned later that someone had actually died there.”
So she headed toward another staircase, further away from where she stood on the atrium, but one that would get her out onto the base. She ran into two colleagues on the way down from the sixth floor, and the three made their way down, from the fifth floor, to the fourth.
“I slid my hand down the banister, talking to God,” said Bennett.
Then the group struck the third floor.
“There was a shooter standing eight paces ahead of me with a sawed-off shotgun pointed up,” said Bennett. “When I was standing there I wasn’t afraid. I was standing still. I was made to stand still.”
She describes the moment like a scene from The Matrix.
“Time slows down. It’s just you and that person,” she said. Her security background prompted her to identify the shooter. She made note of what he was wearing, what he looked like. She later learned hers was the only description of the shooter given to authorities.
“Then I watched a shadow cross his face, his face went dark,” she said, recalling the moment she watched a stranger decide to shoot her and then disappear.
“I watched the blast and I watched it hit me. And then I remember thinking, ‘he’s just shot my arm off.’”
She was, indeed, hit in her arm, the blast causing her to take a couple steps back. Her coat was the only thing keeping it in place. Even still, in midst of it all, she felt peace. She heard the voice of God tell her to cry out to him.
“I knew what it felt to have the Trinity with me on the stairs,” she said.
And it was the presence of God and Christ with Bennett, who walked five sets of stairs from the third floor to the sixth floor, a presence that wrapped around her “like an envelope.” She caught up with her coworkers, and the four made it safely to the roof of the building.
“I told them ‘I want you to do two things for me: I want you to pray with me, and I want you to make sure I’m breathing,” said Bennett.
She remembers praying for the shooter. His mother. Their safety. Minutes turned to hours. A SWAT team, one of whose members was a new EMT, eventually visited Bennett and her peers. Bennett, still conscious, was air-lifted to a nearby hospital in a three-foot by one-and-a-half-foot basket fishtailing beneath a helicopter traveling at 70 miles per hour.
“It was a hoot,” she said, referring to herself as “007.”
Bennett spent nearly 16 days in the hospital, undergoing surgery, and yet she still sees God’s hand in the work of all of it. She can list the blessings of the day without hesitating:
“We had 3,000 people and God only allowed 12 to be taken, five of them were strong Christians; He only allowed me to be wounded in a certain way,” said Bennett.
She remembers interacting with a doctor who told her later that she should not have lived through a point-blank shooting, or at the very least have use of her arm.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘God.’”
And though the events of the day transpired nearly four years ago, her faith is unshaken and grows deeper each day; one of the few from the day not struggling with symptoms of PTSD as she continues her work at the Washington Navy Yard.
“I’ve been able to watch God’s hand moving the puzzle pieces of my life. I hear him more often,” said Bennett. “God continues to talk with me directing me toward the ‘path’ He created for me. He will continue to present His path even when I tell him ‘No’. He will not leave me alone until I walk the plan He has for me.”
Since the shooting, she’s been invited to speak at women’s conferences and has been interviewed with several major news publications. Showtime recently interviewed her for a series the network is doing on shootings, and she’s currently working on a book about how God uses trauma and tragedy in the lives of those who believe in Him.
She sees good in it; what’s more, she sees purpose. And a reason for why God created her to be “warrior strong.”
“I would do it again,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade that day for anything.”