McLEAN, Va. — Heavily armed police officers evacuated USA TODAY’s headquarters in the Washington suburbs Wednesday after authorities said they received a report of a person with a weapon.
Fairfax County, Virginia police reported that they were clearing the building without incident. The building remained subject to a mandatory evacuation Wednesday afternoon.
Lt. Eric Ivancic said police received a call at 11:56 a.m., reporting that a man with gun was seen at the building, which holds the headquarters for USA TODAY, its parent company, Gannett Co., and offices for a variety of other businesses. Police were continuing to investigate, but there has been no evidence of shooting and they had not located anyone with a weapon, Ivancic said.
At a briefing later, Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. said officers were searching for a former employee of one of the companies who he described as a “person of interest.” He declined to identify the person because he or she might have done nothing wrong. It will likely take several hours to complete the search of the building, he said.
“We all pray that this will be a non-event,” Roessler said.
Alarms sounded inside the building early Wednesday afternoon as police squad cars, firetrucks and ambulances converged on the scene. Law enforcement officers with rifles and body armor searched stairwells and a helicopter hovered overhead as they escorted hundreds of employees out of the building.
Fairfax County police tweeted around noon that they were responding to reports of a man with a weapon at the building.
The overwhelming police response comes after the attack last year at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. A gunman burst into the newsroom there and killed five employees of the paper. News organizations, including USA TODAY, tightened security after that shooting.
Roessler said authorities “treated this event as though we had an active shooter.”
On Wednesday, police warned people to avoid the area, which is near the Capital Beltway, major regional malls and office buildings in the Washington suburbs.
The headquarters building houses non-newspaper offices. Hundreds of office workers were herded outside by police.
All USA TODAY and Gannett employees were believed to have evacuated the building safely, Dave Harmon, a human resources official, said in an email to employees.
Workers who fled reported hearing a fire alarm and an announcement over the loudspeaker about an incident inside the building.
“We’ve been drilled so well in school on this,” said Akhil Kota, 21, who works for Appian, a software developer.
Vanden Brook and Johnson reported from Washington. Contributing: Kristine Phillips, Nicholas Wu in Washington