Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner David Purkey spoke at the Millennium Centre on Jan. 31 about his role in advising Gov. Bill Haslam during the 2015 terrorist attack in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Purkey graduated with a degree in Public Health from ETSU in 1981.
“This is a homecoming,” he said. “My whole career started right here.”
At the time of the Chattanooga terrorist attack, Purkey served as Gov. Haslam’s Homeland Security Advisor and assistant commissioner for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Before that, his career as a public servant is endless.
Purkey’s lecture took the full conference room of public health students, professors and Johnson City community members step-by-step through what happened in Chattanooga on July 15, 2015, and how the state responded.
As Haslam’s Homeland Security Advisor, it was his duty to inform the governor that an active shooter situation was underway.
Gov. Haslam then ordered for Tennessee to put their terrorism defense plan into action and security officials across Tennessee and in Washington D.C. got to work to determine the shooter’s next move and to prevent as many fatalities as possible. This plan was new to the state and was developed after Gov. Haslam saw a need for Tennessee to have a more concrete plan in place in case of an attack.
Purkey said intelligence officials had received several warnings and intercepted messages indicating that ISIS was planning an attack on military facilities in Tennessee with the last message coming through in March 2015 that said, “Just wait.” The problem was, they had no idea where or when the attack would happen, or if it would happen at all.
Purkey described the events of that day and every move Kuwait born, naturalized U.S. citizen Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez made as he murdered four U.S. Marines, one U.S. Navy sailor and injured a police officer and Marine recruiter.
“Chattanooga changed me,” Purkey said, clearly overwhelmed with emotion as he recalled the devastation and the way the community showed up to mourn the fallen marines and sailor.
Purkey finished the lecture with enough time for people to ask questions. The evening concluded with one final round of applause for a man Gov. Haslam describes as a man who “has helped make Tennesseans safer.”