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The family of Joshua Kaleb Watson has identified him as one of the three people killed Friday by a gunman at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Authorities say the gunman, a Saudi aviation student, also injured eight others before a sheriff’s deputy killed him.
Neither the Navy nor law enforcement officials have released the names of victims or the gunman.
Late Friday, several hours after the shooting took place, Adam Watson of Anniston, Ala., confirmed the death of his youngest brother in a Facebook post, calling him “a hero.”
“Joshua Kaleb Watson saved countless lives today with his own,” Watson writes. “After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable.”
He adds: “He died a hero and we are beyond proud but there is a whole in our hearts that can never be filled.”
In an interview with the Pensacola News Journal, Watson’s father told the paper his 23-year-old son was shot at least five times.
Benjamin Watson said it was his son’s dream to one day become a Navy pilot and he reported to flight training in Pensacola two weeks ago. He told the paper, “He died serving his country.”
Joshua Kaleb Watson grew up in Enterprise, Ala. He became a captain on the rifle team while at the Naval Academy, according to a Navy bio page, which says “he competed 13 times during his senior season and started 13 times in smallbore and twice in air rifle.”
Asked his preference between the two, he replied “smallbore for sure” in a interview with Navy Sports Magazine posted to YouTube in January.
Smallbore competition requires the shooter to fire a series of 20 rifle rounds from three separate positions — lying down, standing and kneeling.
Watson said growing up in Alabama, he handled firearms all the time, but says he was surprised the Navy had a rifle team.
“Wow the Naval Academy has a shooting team, maybe this is a great way to get there,” Watson said.
He was later asked about his goals and plans following graduation.
“I was selected for Navy pilot,” Watson said. “So hopefully heading down to Pensacola … right now I’m slated for November.”
He had a clear focus on his trajectory once he arrived.
“Get through flight school and maybe go fly jets. That’ll be pretty cool,” Watson said.
In another Facebook post on Saturday, Watson’s sister-in-law, Jennifer LeAnn Watson, thanked those offering condolences and asked for prayers for the family who is “hurting deeply.”
“My brother in law did not die in vain he was and has always been a hero amongst everyone he touched and loved!” She continued, “His accomplishments and dedication to this country will never be forgotten!”
Watson graduated from Enterprise High School in 2014, according to a report by Dothan, Alabama-based WDHN, an ABC affiliate. It adds Watson was “known for his involvement in the JROTC program, the National Honor Society, and the French National Honor Society.”
An entry on the Enterprise High School Facebook page called Watson’s death “tragic” and described him “an incredible young man.”
“Josh was an incredible young man with an incredibly bright future. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Watson family and other families dealing with this horrible act of violence. We truly lost an incredible young man that would have made this country, this world a better place.”
According to WTVY, a CBS affiliate in Dothan, William Cooper, the mayor of Enterprise, asked Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to lower flags to half-staff until the Watson is laid to rest.
Questions about the shooter’s motive and about the foreign national being on a military base continue to go unanswered.
NPR’s Debbie Elliott reporting from Pensacola, told Weekend Edition Saturday, “the base commander and state officials did confirm that the gunman was an aviation student from Saudi Arabia — one of about 200 foreign students — part of allied forces who regularly train at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
Elliott said authorities confirmed the Saudi aviation student possessed a handgun, even though firearms are prohibited on base.
Some media outlets have reported the shooting may have been terrorism-related.
“No I can’t stay it’s terrorism at this time,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Saturday when asked about the incident at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif.
“I think we need to let the investigators, the FBI, do its work … get us the facts and we’ll move out from there,” Esper said.