Chattanooga Shooting Victims to Receive Purple Heart, Mabus Says

Bullet holes in the entrance to the Chattanooga military recruiting center (Photo: April Grimmett via Twitter)
Bullet holes in the entrance to the Chattanooga military recruiting center (Photo: April Grimmett via Twitter)

The four Marines and a sailor killed by a gunman during a July mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will receive the Purple Heart medal, as will a Marine sergeant who was wounded.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced Wednesday that Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire D. "Skip" Wells, Sgt. DeMonte Cheeley and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith would all receive the award.

The announcement comes the same day the FBI announced that the Chattanooga shooter, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was "inspired by a foreign terror organization." It's not clear what organization Abdulazeez, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Kuwait, might have been emulating.

"Following an extensive investigation, the FBI and NCIS have determined that this attack was inspired by a foreign terrorist group, the final criteria required for the awarding of the Purple Heart to this sailor and these Marines," Mabus said in a statement, referring to Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

"This determination allows the Department of the Navy to move forward immediately with the award of the Purple Heart to the families of the five heroes who were victims of this terrorist attack, as well as to the surviving hero, Sgt. Cheeley," he added.

On July 16, Abdulazeez first attacked a military recruiting office in a drive-by shooting, then traveled to a nearby Navy Reserve center, where he shot five Marines, a sailor and a police officer before he was killed by police.

Cheeley, the Marine recruiter who survived a gunshot to the back of the leg, returned to work the same month, Marine Corps Times reported.

The shocking and tragic attacks inspired a wave of concern over the security of military recruiting facilities and prompted Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to call for better training and "physical security enhancements" to protect the military personnel working at such facilities.

"Although the Purple Heart can never possibly replace this brave Sailor and these brave Marines, it is my hope that as their families and the entire Department of the Navy team continue to mourn their loss, these awards provide some small measure of solace," Mabus said. "Their heroism and service to our nation will be remembered always."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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