At Virginia Beach’s Department of Public Utilities, where 40-year-old DeWayne Craddock was a civil engineer, his fellow employees were winding down Friday afternoon, getting ready to head off for the weekend. The boss, Bob Montague, ended a meeting in his office a little before 4 p.m. and turned to some last-minute paperwork.
It was right then, near quitting time, that Craddock, who had been on the city payroll for about 15 years, opened fire on his colleagues with a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun, police said, spraying bullets around the second floor of a three-story, red-brick building on the campus of the Virginia Beach municipal center.
“I heard rapid pop pops, but they weren’t very loud,” Montague said. That was because Craddock, according to police, had equipped his pistol with a sound suppressor, commonly called a “silencer,” before embarking on the killing rampage.
The scene in Virginia Beach after a deadly shooting at a public works building
“Suddenly, a kind of hole exploded in my wall,” Montague said. “I had bits of dry wall and dust hit me. That’s when I made a connection of what was happening.”
What was happening was a slaughter — a dozen victims slain, 11 of whom worked for the city, plus Craddock, who was killed in a gunfight with police. It was another mass shooting in a nation grown accustomed to them.
“It was all very quick, a whirlwind coming through,” Montague said. “You’re frightened and your adrenaline is up, and you’re thinking about what you’re going to do if you encounter someone. I had no idea what was going on, other than realizing these were gunshots.”
A fire alarm began blaring.
He called 911 and texted his staff to shelter in place.
Montague hunkered down himself, scanning his office for anything he might use as a weapon if the shooter barged in.
He did all the things he had been taught to do — what countless Americans have learned to do in recent years — during active-shooter training.
As for Craddock, his motive isn’t publicly known.
Neighbors said he was quiet, unobtrusive. He said nothing as he shot his victims, a witness said.
His workplace, Building 2 in the municipal center, is part of a sprawling complex of about 30 city buildings. While there on Friday, Craddock had two .45-caliber handguns, at least one outfitted with an extended ammunition clip.
A contractor, Herbert “Bert” Snelling, was sitting outside Building 2 in a car, a city official said. Craddock approached Snelling and shot him to death. Then he went into the building and up to public utilities on the second floor.
Around the time Montague was finishing his meeting, David Benn, a 58-year-old traffic engineer, was standing in a second-floor hallway, chatting with two colleagues. Benn would later tell his wife that the shooter emerged from a nearby room and pointed the gun at him and the others. Benn, who had never met Craddock, dived into someone’s vacant office as bullets started flying.
From his hiding place, he called his wife, Cheryl Benn, in her Virginia Beach law office. She said she didn’t recognize the number, and when she answered, all she could hear was a fire alarm wailing in the background. So she hung up.
Then her husband called right back, at 4:17 p.m. “I don’t remember now exactly what he said, but it was something to the effect of: He was barricaded in a room and the door wouldn’t lock, but he was leaning up against the door and there’s someone shooting out there.” He told her he was all right and was waiting for help.
“It didn’t sound like gunshots,” Cheryl Benn said, quoting her husband, who didn’t want to be interviewed. Because Craddock’s weapon was equipped with a noise suppressor, Benn told his wife, the shots “sounded like a nail gun up on the roof.”
A Virginia Beach planning commissioner, George Alcaraz, said Building 2 houses planning offices on the first floor, public utilities on the second floor and permitting on the third floor. He said at least 50 people work in public utilities.
One of them, Thomas Colson, an accounting clerk, heard a colleague shout: “Active shooter! Get off the phones and into an office!”
Colson, 39, and a co-worker hustled from room to room, spreading the word.
“A lady was knocked down, and I was helping her up,” he said. “We got people into an office and barricaded the door with a chair. I was going for another sweep when I looked up and saw the gunman walking toward me.”
He said he and Craddock were casual acquaintances. After Colson and the co-worker ducked into an office and locked the door, Craddock “went by three times. He looked me dead in the eye and I could see the weapon in his hands. Then he walked away and we found a table and barricaded the door. It felt like forever.”
Outside the room where Colson was sheltered, victims fell, including Tara Welch Gallagher, Richard H. Nettleton, Christopher Kelly Rapp, Katherine A. Nixon and Joshua O. Hardy. All worked in engineering for public utilities and were killed.
As the gunman kept firing, Robin Morse, who works on the first floor, heard a muffled commotion through the ceiling. “I thought someone had fallen,” she said. “Then someone yelled, ‘There’s an active shooting in the building!’ ” Kimberly Millering’s boss approached her on the first floor and, in a calm but stern voice, told her the same thing.
“Hearing the words come out of his mouth was surreal,” Millering said. She locked the door to her windowless office, turned off the lights and sat behind a file cabinet. She could hear, coming from above her, what sounded like gunfire and muffled shouts.
Others were dying up there: Mary Louise Gayle, Alexander Mikhail Gusev and Laquita C. Brown, all right-of-way agents on the second floor, were among the slain, as were Ryan Keith Cox, an account clerk; Michelle “Missy” Langer, an administrative assistant; and Robert “Bobby” Williams, a special projects coordinator.
Virginia Beach police headquarters is in the municipal complex. Two detectives were the first to arrive in Building 2. A pair of uniformed K-9 officers also got there fast. Officials said the four soon found Craddock and a firefight broke out, lasting several minutes. They said one detective’s life was saved when his protective vest stopped a bullet from Craddock’s gun.
Shelia Cook, whose workplace on the campus is near police and fire headquarters, a few blocks from Building 2, said “we could kind of hear what was going on.”
As she and fellow employees were getting ready to leave for the weekend, the crack of gunfire reached them. “Poom, poom — like that,” Cook, 49, said. “If that happened 10 minutes later, me and my colleagues would have been coming out of the building, not knowing what was occurring over there. And bullets have no name on them.”
Then: “Our phones just started pinging with the news. So that’s how we began to look at the news, and, like, ‘Guys, it’s really serious.’ ” Soon, heavily armed officers arrived, telling Cook and her co-workers to shelter in place.
“They were right on it,” she said. “I’m so grateful for our police force. . . . They were not taking their lives into consideration, but ours.”
In Building 2, Montague, the public utilities director, suddenly heard nothing. The gunfire ceased. Then he heard officers pounding on office doors, pointing their weapons at the survivors, ordering them to come with their hands raised.
They had to be sure that Craddock didn’t have an accomplice. “They were herding us through hallways,” said Montague, who saw one of the victims dead on the floor. He said he encountered one of his employees, “who was so distraught. My reaction was to grab them and comfort them — but then you’re reminded to keep your hands up.”
As police led the survivors out of the building, public utilities account clerk Christi Dewar, 60, said, she stepped over someone who turned out to be her friend Langer. An officer holding her hand told her, “Don’t look down, don’t look down,” she said. “And I don’t know how I made it.”
Millering, hiding on the first floor, exchanged instant messages with colleagues around her. Finally, four them gathered in one office, planning to flee the building, before police officers showed up and led them to safety.
“See that red car?” an officer said. “Run to that red car.” And they did, hurrying hundreds of feet across a field in a “frightening and unnerving” sprint.
David Benn survived, too. His wife, Cheryl, found him late that night at police headquarters, where he was being interviewed by investigators.
“I asked him if he was all right,” she said, “and he told me yes. And then I hugged him.”