A WEEK ago, Rollie Chance was on the telephone, worried that some of his friends at the Washington Navy Yard may have been killed in a mass shooting there.
In the middle of that, he received a call that he thought was a prank: a news organisation telling him that he had been identified as the gunman.
Chance’s name was reported by two network news organisations as the shooter in an apparent mix-up involving his long-discarded Navy Yard identification badge. Reporters from US station NBC tweeted Chance’s name as the gunman, while CBS used Chance’s name in tweets and in a radio broadcast. Both networks retracted their reports within minutes.
Chance, a Stafford, Virginia, resident, has reluctantly spoken to reporters in recent days because he hopes getting stories out about the mix-up will crowd out archived versions of stories on the internet that misidentify him as the Navy Yard shooter. He also says he wants to ensure that others don’t go through what he did.
“It was a very emotionally draining week,” Chance said in an interview.
On the day of the incident, Chance was also dealing with the shootings on a personal level. He had worked at the Navy Yard for years, first as a US Navy sailor and later as a civilian in engineering.
He knew one of the victims fairly well; their families met and spent time together at a Christmas party a few years ago. Chance declined to identify the person, concerned that bringing the victim’s name into the public eye could cause the family pain.
He said he had not received a telephone call from either NBC or CBS.
NBC News said in a statement: “We received misinformation from reliable sources and immediately corrected.”
Sonya McNair, senior vice president of communications for CBS News, issued a similar statement: “We reported what we learned from law enforcement sources and it was corrected within minutes.”
The first call he received on the day of the shootings was from ABC, asking if he knew Rollie Chance had been identified as the Navy Yard shooter. Chance thought it was a bad joke. Still, he holds no ill will toward ABC or other news agencies that called trying to get the story straight and that withheld his name from publication.
“They verified before they vilified,” said Chance.
He first learned for certain that news outlets had identified him as the shooter from FBI agents who visited his home that day. They were trying to figure out why Chance’s badge was found at the scene.
Chance said he still has no idea how his badge got mixed up in the case. He retired in October from his civilian Navy job and turned in his badge as a matter of routine.
He said multiple people, including his former boss, were there when he did so. He did not give the badge a second thought between then and the day of the shootings.
He said the FBI and other agencies that came to his home a week ago concluded relatively quickly that he had no involvement in what occurred.
Still, “that day was pretty emotional. You’re trying to alleviate any doubt in anyone’s mind,” he said.
His family received condolence flowers that day from people who heard the news and thought Chance was dead.
Chance declined to comment on potential legal action against NBC and CBS.
His lawyer, Mark Cummings, said Chance has asked him first to “contact NBC and CBS and see if we can begin discussions toward a settlement,” one that would in part enlist the networks’ help in minimising the fact that internet searches produce results linking Chance to shooter Aaron Alexis, the IT contractor who gunned down 12 workers at the yard before being killed by police after an extended firefight.