POLITICS

Rollie Chance, Wrongly Suspected Navy Yard Shooter: I Thought 'This Must Be A Joke'

09/20/2013 12:30 pm ET | Updated Sep 20, 2013

WASHINGTON -- No one knows what it's like to be a dead mass murderer. But for about 20 minutes on Monday, Rollie Chance got about as close to that experience as you can get.

The 50-year-old retired chief petty officer with the U.S. Navy was briefly identified as the Washington Navy Yard shooter that morning, only to have the news organizations circulating his name hastily retract their reports.

What ensued was a life-altering swirl of events and emotions that will forever change his life, especially because the 12 people who were killed that day -- by the gunman Aaron Alexis, not him -- included former colleagues and friends.

"I have to feel the impact," Chance said, in a phone interview with The Huffington Post on Friday morning, the first he's granted to a non-television outlet. "Not only did it impact me in terms of changing my way of life, it impacted my family, and also I lost friends at the Washington Navy Yard."

Monday began in otherwise mundane fashion for Chance. He woke up and helped his 9-year-old daughter get ready before school. He first heard about the shooting while sitting in his kitchen later that morning. Naturally, it grabbed his attention. But then more details starting coming in. He had worked at the Washington Navy Yard ... in Building 197 ... on the 4th floor, where the violence had reportedly taken place.

Then, things turned surreal. A call came in from ABC News sometime between 11:00 a.m. and noon asking him if anyone at his number and address knew Rollie Chance.

"They didn't know I was Rollie Chance," he recalled. "I think they still don't know that Rollie Chance answered the phone."

The person on the phone then asked him if he knew that Rollie Chance was the perpetrator.

"My first thought was, this must be a joke," he said. "I said to him, 'I can tell you 100 percent that Rollie Chance was not the shooter.' That was my first notification that I was, I guess, involved in the Washington Navy Yard shooting."

Thinking the entire call was a hoax, he never identified himself to ABC News.

Shortly thereafter, the FBI showed up. They had questions and, naturally, they were a bit surprised that one of their primary suspects in the shooting -- someone they presumed had been killed -- was, in fact, alive and answering his door.

At this juncture, Chance realized that this was no diabolical prank. He began to freak out.

"The first thing that [the FBI agent] said -- I guess he was trying to calm me down because I was nervous -- [he tried to] liven up the situation by saying, 'I didn't have a good day because you are the first shooter who came back to life,'" Chance said. "I didn't know until then that I was accused of being the shooter and was apparently dead."

There are benefits to being presumed dead in a situation like this one. For one thing, Chance didn't receive any threats from people who thought he was the shooter. But there are obvious horrors as well. Friends and family began frantically calling, as did church groups, neighbors and teachers at his daughter's school.

"The first thing they were worried about was that they got the report that I was dead," he said. "I was supposed to be the shooter and shooter was killed. So, there was a lot of emotion. Many of the teachers at my daughter's school thought I was dead. So the first thing I let them know was that I was alive and I was OK."

"They wanted to know, 'How did my name get in there?' and the only thing I could think of was the badge," he added.

Chance's badge had, indeed, been the issue. It was recovered at the scene of the crime, prompting law enforcement officials to chase an ultimately fruitless lead. In the process, both CBS and NBC News were tipped off that one Rollie Chance was being identified as the shooter. From there, chaos ensued.

Four days later, Chance still has no clue how his badge ended up at the scene of the crime. He turned it in to his security manager when he retired from his civilian job at the Navy Yard in October 2012. His division head and supervisor were there to witness it, he says. It has been speculated that Alexis may have used Chance's ID to get in the door.

Asked how his badge could have resurfaced, Chance said, "I do not have any idea."

Even when it became clear that Chance wasn't involved in the shooting, things didn't return to normal. He had his daughter sleep at a friend's house on Monday night so as to avoid the media circus outside her home. On Tuesday morning, he explained everything to her.

Chance says that he has yet to leave his home -- save to give his first interview to Fox News on Thursday night -- and he has not talked to his neighbors. He missed a funeral for a former colleague he knew at the Navy Yard, only finding out that it had taken place when his former division head called on Thursday.

"It was pretty sad that I wasn't able to go," he said.

Chance's 75-year-old mother-in-law has been hounded by the press and so has he. He had to get a prescription for sleeping pills in order to get some rest. He also hired a lawyer to help him navigate the next few weeks.

"People out here may still have doubts and that bothers me," he said. His lawyer noted that when you Google "Rollie Chance," a picture of Aaron Alexis still comes up.

"I'm looking for something like this not to happen to anyone else," Chance said, when asked why he decided to speak out. "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. I think there needs to be some accountability in reporting. Instead of being the first reporter to have breaking news, you have to have accountability. Verify before you vilify."

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