Details emerge of Washington Navy Yard victims

WASHINGTON, D.C. — John Johnson could have retired from the Washington Navy Yard years ago, but he loved the work.

Richard Michael Ridgell, a former Maryland state trooper who helped train police in Iraq, was devoted to his daughters.

Vishnu Pandit, who came to the United States to build a better life for his family, was proud of his quarter century working for the U.S. Navy.

All were gunned down Monday in one of the worst mass killings ever on a U.S. military installation. As investigators continued Tuesday to sift clues into the motivations of alleged shooter Aaron Alexis, details began to emerge of the women and men authorities say he shot to death.

The attack at the naval base in Southeast Washington killed 12: Sylvia Frasier, 53, of Waldorf. Md.; Johnson, 73, of Derwood, Md., Frank Kohler, 50, of Tall Timbers, Md.; Pandit, 61, of North Potomac, Md., Kenneth Proctor, 46, of Waldorf; Ridgell, 52, of Owings Mills, Md.; Martin Bodrog, 54, a Naval Academy graduate who lived in Annandale, Va.; Arthur Lee Daniels, 51, of Washington, D.C.; Michael Arnold, 59, of Lorton, Va.; Kathy Gaarde, 62, of Woodbridge, Va.; Mary Francis Knight, 51, of Reston, Va.; and Gerald L. Read, 58, of Alexandria, Va.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said Tuesday that “our hearts and prayers” are with the victims and their loved ones.

“This loss of life is tragic because there is no such thing as a spare American,” O’Malley said. “Every life is needed.”

Ridgell — who went by his middle name, Michael — grew up in Brooklyn in Anne Arundel County. The father of three daughters served 17 years in the Maryland State Police, and later traveled to Iraq to train the new civilian police force there.

“As always, he was protecting us in yesterday’s senseless act of violence,” friend Angie Miller posted on his Facebook page.

A spokeswoman for the government contractor DynCorp International said Ridgell worked with the firm in Iraq from 2010 to 2011.

“Mr. Ridgell was a member of our CIVPOL program in Iraq — a program that requires law enforcement professionals to travel to remote locations, often placing themselves in harm’s way, to promote stability around the world,” the Falls Church, Va., company said in a statement. “His commitment to serving and bringing peace to communities here at home and abroad makes this loss all the more tragic.”

Martin Herman, president of Special Response Corp., the Maryland security firm where Ridgell worked until last year, called him outgoing, and “always in a good mood … a real people person.”

“Mike was a good father, a Trooper,” father-in-law Thomas Lyons said. “He loved softball, loved to play softball and coached his daughters’ softball teams through this summer season.”

Ridgell’s Facebook page includes a picture of him with the Westminster Jaycees Girls Softball team, for which he was an assistant coach.

Johnson, who went by J.J., worked as an engineer at the Navy Yard. The father of four daughters and grandfather of nine, his family called him the “baby whisperer” for his ability to calm crying infants.

“The sad part of this is the man who committed this horrible crime needed someone to talk to … and John would have been the kind of person he could have gone and talked to,” said Rebecca Woodward, whose son married one of Johnson’s daughters.

“I know that John would be the first person to forgive him,” she said.

Johnson worked for a Navy engineering contractor for years, Woodward said, dating to the days when the shipbuilding unit was in Crystal City, Va.

He was expecting a 10th grandchild in November.

“It’s so sad that he’ll not get to know this baby,” Woodward said.

When Johnson wasn’t horsing around with the kids, he liked to visit a beach home he and his wife own in Nags Head, N.C. Ocean fishing, Woodward said, was Johnson’s “nirvana.”

“He was just such a big kid,” she said. “You always braced yourself when John walked in the room because there was a huge bear hug coming at you.”

Pandit, who grew up in Bombay and studied marine engineering in Calcutta, came to the United States in 1974. He finished his graduate studies at the University of Michigan and used his degree in marine engineering to land a civilian job at the Navy 25 years ago.

Known to his family as Kisan, he was a father to two grown children and a grandfather.

“It’s heartbreaking,” M. Nuns Jain, a longtime friend, said outside Pandit’s home on a leafy street in North Potomac. “He was a fantastic person, loving, caring, very dedicated. He loved his work.”

No one answered the phone at Pandit’s home Tuesday, but his family released a statement describing him as a “a kind and gentle man who loved his family, friends, dog and job.”

The family released a photograph of Vishnu with a puppy.

Frank Kohler was a past president of the Rotary Club in Lexington Park, current club president Jack Pappas said.

“Our motto is service above self and that’s what he did,” Pappas said. “He was a family man. He had two daughters and was just a nice man. You’d like him for a neighbor.”

The club of about 100 members supports about 30 local charities and hand out between 20 and 30 college scholarships a year, Pappas said.

The year after Kohler served as president, he was the club’s “King Oyster,” in charge of organizing the annual U.S. Oyster Festival, which takes place in October at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds.

In addition to having the organizational skill to pull together one of area’s largest seafood festivals, Pappas said, the festival’s “king” must also be a bit of a showman.

“He gets to wear a crown and a big heavy red robe and carry a scepter, all very nautical,” Pappas said. “Rotary is a charitable thing but fellowship is a big thing as well.”

Bodrog, a 1981 graduate of the Naval Academy, served 22 years in the fleet as a surface warfare officer.

His role at the Navy Yard included “overseeing the design and procurement of ships,” according to an obituary provided by his family.

“His expertise and experience in amphibious operations allowed Marty to make lasting contributions to the success of the Navy-Marine Corps Team,” his family said.

A native of Woodbury, N.J., he was nonetheless an avid fan of the Boston Bruins, the family statement said. He would walk his dog in shorts and a Bruins jersey, even in winter.

The yearbook entry for his senior year at New Jersey Audubon High School said he was a football and wrestling standout who “had a crack for all occasions.”

Married with three daughters, he was a regular attendee of Immanuel Bible Church, where he taught Sunday school.

“Marty was source of great inspiration to his family and friends — those of us that we lucky enough to know Marty are better people for it,” his family said.

Arnold’s work designing Navy vessels reflected a childhood passion, his mother said.

Patricia Arnold recalled buying her son model ship after model ship.

“Every birthday, every Christmas, every chance we got, we were always buying these models, and that’s what he did in his job,” she said. “He was on a team designing these ships. … He loved to do those.”

Arnold said her son was determined to join the Navy after high school, and chose to attend the University of Oklahoma for its ROTC program.

He was stationed in Hawaii before he left the service and moved to Northern Virginia, where he lived for about 30 years. He was married with two sons.

Patricia Arnold described him as a father who spent hours reading to his sons, playing catch with them in the back yard, taking them to T-ball games and bowling leagues.

“I want people to know what a good man he was and how stupid and senseless this all is,” Patricia Arnold said. “He was a good man, a wonderful husband, a wonderful, wonderful father to his two boys and a wonderful son to me.”

Michael Arnold, who turned 59 last week, had been spending much of his free time with his sons building a two-seat airplane in his basement that he planned to fly from Virginia to the family cabin in Michigan next year. “His goal was to fly before he was 60,” Patricia Arnold said. “He was just everything that a mother would want in a son, and I guess that pretty much says it all.”