One of the three heroic sailors who died protecting others during a mass shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday morning had only recently rekindled his faith.
Anthony Snead, who coached Airman Mohammad Sameh Haitham, a 19-year-old from St. Petersburg, Florida, in track and cross-country at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, told The Washington Post how Haitham, who graduated in 2018, recently rekindled his Christian faith and had been attending church with a classmate.
He explained how proud he was of Haitham who once told him that he was unsure what he wanted to do with his life, but he wanted it to be positive.
“He didn’t want to be somebody who was going to coast,” Snead said. “He wanted to be someone who was going to be a positive influence. And he worked like it.”
Haitham was the youngest of the three sailors who were fatally shot by a 21-year-old gunman, identified as Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani at Naval Air Station Pensacola. The navy identified the other fatalities as Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, of Coffee, Alabama, and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Georgia.
“The sorrow from the tragic event on NAS Pensacola will have a lasting impact on our installation and community,” Capt. Tim Kinsella, commanding officer at NAS Pensacola said in a statement Saturday. “We feel the loss profoundly and grieve with the family and friends of the deceased. The Sailors that lost their lives in the line of duty and showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil. When confronted, they didn’t run from danger; they ran towards it and saved lives. If not for their actions, and the actions of the Naval Security Force that were the first responders on the scene, this incident could have been far worse.”
Alshamrani, who was armed with a handgun, opened fire inside a classroom building killing the three sailors and injured eight others before he was killed by a sheriff’s deputy. The FBI is currently investigating the attack as an act of terrorism, The New York Times said.
Kimberly Walker, who said Haitham was her son’s best friend, told The Washington Post that his mother, who is also a Navy veteran, works for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
She said he had only been stationed in Pensacola for a few months and had recently completed basic training. Authorities, she said, told Haitham’s family that he had tried to stop the shooter.
“He was just so good that I knew the second [authorities] talked about a hero that he wouldn’t allow anybody else to take a bullet if he could get in the way of it,” Walker said.
Erin Savage, the principal of Lakewood High, who visited Haitham’s grieving family on Saturday told the Times. “In my mind, I see his smile and his face. And the part that breaks me up is now seeing him in my mind trying to defend himself and trying to defend others. That was Mohammed. That was him.”
Loved ones for both Watson and Walters also recalled their bravery and told The New York Times that they had also only recently arrived at NAS Pensacola.
“He hollered back for people to get out, to run, and he tackled him,” Sheila Watson, Ensign Watson’s mother, said in an interview on how her son fought back against the gunman. “He was fighting with him, trying to unarm him, and he was shooting my baby.”
Despite being shot five times, it was Ensign Watson who managed to crawl out of the classroom building to give emergency personnel a description of the gunman and his location and “and then he collapsed” his mother said.
And she noted that since the time he joined the United States Naval Academy, he had told her that if he was ever faced with an active shooter that he would not back down.
“He told us, ‘Mom, Dad, if I’m ever confronted with them, you know I’m going in full force.’ And that’s what he did,” Watson said.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said at a news conference after a funeral procession for the three sailors that Watson deserved posthumous honors for his bravery. His commanding officer told his parents that he jumped over a desk or counter when the gunman started shooting in order to tackle him.
Airman Walters’ family told the Times that they last saw him during his boot-camp graduation in Illinois late last month and he was fulfilling a dream of being like his father, who is a Navy veteran.
“He wanted to follow his dad’s footsteps,” Heather Walters, his stepmother told the publication. “Our other boys want to be in the Navy, too, but we’re not letting them.”
In support of Walters’ family officials of Richmond Hill, Georgia, noted in part in a statement on Facebook Sunday that: “The City of Richmond Hill feels the loss profoundly of these three sailors and grieves with the family and friends of the deceased. We ask our community to come together for Cameron’s family, to mourn and remember him, and to pay tribute to his sacrifice. We will forever be grateful for his courage and heroism.”