WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps said Friday that it is preparing Purple Heart packages for its four service members killed in the Chattanooga, Tenn., shooting last week, but the decorations will depend on an ongoing federal investigation into the shooter.
So far, the FBI has said Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez appeared to be a “homegrown violent extremist” who operated on his own, although its investigation is ongoing. The agency has not ruled out that the shooter had been radicalized by others.
New Purple Heart criteria passed by Congress in December requires the perpetrator of an attack be in contact or inspired by a terrorist group, and that could rule out the four Marines and the sailor who were killed.
“The Purple Heart packages have been prepared but eligibility must be determined through the FBI’s investigation,” Marine spokesman Maj. Clark Carpenter said.
Abdulazeez shot up a strip-mall recruiting center before firing on the Naval Operational Support Center, killing Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt and Lance Cpl. Skip Wells.
The Navy said Friday it is following protocol and waiting for the outcome of the FBI investigation before compiling any medal paperwork for Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, 26, who was critically wounded and died later.
The FBI investigation results will go to an awards board in the Marine Corps and Navy and be weighed against medal criteria, according to a Pentagon spokesman. The board will make a recommendation to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus for a final determination.
Attacks on military personnel by lone gunmen are an increasing threat in the United States and have redefined the traditional battlefield as well as the criteria for the Purple Heart, which is a symbol of combat sacrifice with roots in the Revolutionary War. The award comes with valuable combat-related benefits for wounded service members.
The expanded eligibility requirements have resulted in Purple Hearts for victims of the 2009 shooting by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas, and for victims of another deadly shooting that killed two soldiers outside a Little Rock, Ark., recruiting center.
Both attackers had connections to al-Qaida.
An FBI spokesman in Chattanooga did not immediately return requests for comment from Stars and Stripes.
The agency held a news conference Wednesday and said it was still tracking down hundreds of leads in the case. Abdulazeez, who was killed by local police, wrote blog posts before the attack comparing life to a prison and praising devout figures in Islam.
Still, the FBI has revealed no evidence nor confirmed a direct link to terrorist groups or ideology.
“We believe he acted on his own that day,” FBI special agent Ed Reinhold said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We don’t have any indication anyone else was assisting him.”