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‘We are a heartbroken city’: After mass shooting, Virginia Beach mourns and searches for answers

Virginia Beach residents gather across the city to pray for those killed in a mass shooting on Friday, May 31. (Video: REF:ribasjl, REF:murphyz0-v, REF:joplinam/The Washington Post, Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

VIRGINIA BEACH — He was a longtime employee with an office access card. He carried two legally purchased firearms. Police arrived within moments of the first shots.

Nothing in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s mass shooting stands out as a breakdown in security. And yet 12 people who showed up as usual to a city office building — 11 employees and one contractor filing a permit — never made it back home.

Officials could offer no clear motive or explanation Saturday for what Police Chief James A. Cervera called a “horrific event of unbelievable proportion.”

Authorities identified De­Wayne Craddock, 40, of Virginia Beach, as the shooter, who was killed in a gun battle with police. Craddock used two .45-caliber handguns in the incident, and an official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they had been legally purchased — one in 2016 and the other in 2018.

The scene in Virginia Beach after a deadly shooting at a public works building

June 2, 2019 | Christine Craig, right center, prays with Brittany Perry, right, at a makeshift memorial near the Virginia Beach municipal center. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Investigators recovered two other firearms from his home, and one of those also had been legally purchased. The other was still being examined, the ATF official said.

On Saturday morning, Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen solemnly read the names of each victim at a news conference. Leaders vowed to focus on their lives and not the person who killed them.

Four other victims remained in hospitals, three in critical condition and the fourth in fair condition, according to Julie Hill, communications director for the city. A police officer was also shot; he was treated and released after his armored vest saved his life.

“Make no mistake, we are a heartbroken city,” Hill said. “We lost 12 people who did nothing more than go to work.”

The victims of the Virginia Beach mass shooting

Craddock was an engineer who had been employed by the Department of Public Utilities for 15 years. Cervera denied news reports that Craddock had been fired from his job but declined to discuss Craddock’s work history or say whether he was targeting anyone in the shooting.

The director of the public utilities department said he was mystified by Craddock’s behavior.

“There weren’t any clues I was aware of or that were being funneled to the top,” Bob Montague said. “I certainly didn’t have a reason to believe that anything like this would happen. He had a number of active projects that were moving along really well.”

Police searched the shooter’s home and found nothing to provide an obvious motive, according to a city official, who added that some people thought Craddock had been acting differently on over the past several months but nothing that indicated a dangerous situation.

The investigation is a “time-consuming, meticulous process,” Cervera said. Local police are being assisted by state police, ATF and the FBI, with 40 federal agents taking over responsibility for gathering evidence inside the building, he said.

Cervera said the first call reporting an active shooter came in shortly after 4 p.m. and officers arrived almost instantly. The police department is about 150 yards from the Public Works offices in the sprawling municipal complex, a cluster of neo-Colonial buildings near golf courses and affluent neighborhoods in this vast, decentralized city.

Business was winding down on the Friday after Memorial Day. Cervera said he did not know whether Craddock had been at work that day. Parts of the building are open to the public — the first floor is city planning and permits, with lots of foot traffic in and out.

On the second floor, the elevators open to a counter where residents can pay their water bills. Other offices on that floor — mostly for public utilities — are secured, but can be opened with the access badge that Craddock was carrying.

DeWayne Craddock, a longtime Virginia Beach employee, identified as shooter

According to the city official, Craddock arrived at the building and shot his first victim in the parking lot — the contractor, who was in his car. Once Craddock went inside, things moved quickly.

He shot a woman walking out to go home and then used his access badge to begin shooting indiscriminately at people in offices, according to the official. He fired shots on all three floors as workers scrambled for cover.

Public utilities account clerk Christi Dewar, 60, said co-worker Ryan Keith Cox corralled several employees in a room for safety, then said he was going to look for others. But the shooter fired into the room, some bullets hitting a cabinet stacked against the door. Everyone dropped to the ground.

“I think that’s when he got Keith,” Dewar said. She said she called 911 and when police arrived someone screamed, “Keith is on the ground! Keith is on the ground!”

As they were being led out, Dewar said she stepped over someone who turned out to be her slain friend Michelle “Missy” 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.”

Police had arrived quickly from their nearby headquarters. Two detectives got there first and met up with two K-9 officers, then went into the building and quickly engaged the shooter, the law enforcement official said.

“This was a long-term, large gunfight,” Cervera said.

He credited the officers with preventing more carnage, and said investigators recovered a sound suppressor and extended magazines along with the firearms at the scene.

“This is a horrific crime scene,” Cervera said. “It took a physical, emotional and psychological toll on everyone who spent the night in that building.”

The shooting sent employees fleeing the building, while others froze in place. Roughly 400 people work there, though it’s unclear how many were present late Friday when the shooting took place.

Accounting clerk Thomas Colson, 39, said he recognized the shooter from seeing him around the hallways. On Friday, he didn’t realize Craddock had a gun until someone shouted.

Then he and a colleague barricaded themselves in an office.

“I knew seven of the 12 victims,” Colson said. “I have a little girl, she’ll be five in October, and one woman used to always ask me to see pictures of my baby girl. I don’t remember names, but when I saw that woman’s face this morning as one of the victims I just broke down and cried. My little girl said she never saw me cry before and wanted to know why. . . . All I want, all I want, is for this not to happen to somebody else.”

Drew Lankford works on the third floor in Public Works but was out getting a haircut when the shooting happened. He got a frantic call from his daughter, who works in City Hall.

“She was just sobbing,” he said.

Lankford said he jumped out of the barber chair and followed police vehicles back to work. “Had I not stopped for a haircut,” he said, “I’d have probably been right in the middle of it.”

He said his office had undergone active shooter training at the end of March.

After the incident, Cervera said officers methodically checked every room, closet and desk in the building before determining it was free of danger.

Fearing active shooters, employers turn to workers to monitor their peers

On Saturday, Craddock’s family members posted a note on their door in Yorktown that read they were sending “heart felt condolences” to the victims.

In addition to Langer and Cox, those killed were identified as Virginia Beach residents Tara Welch Gallagher, Mary Louise Gayle, Alexander Mikhail Gusev, Katherine A. Nixon, Joshua O. Hardy and Herbert “Bert” Snelling; Chesapeake residents Laquita C. Brown and Robert “Bobby” Williams; Norfolk resident Richard H. Nettleton; and Powhatan resident Christopher Kelly Rapp.

Family and friends began to mourn them Saturday in private moments and public vigils. One had not yet finished his first year on the job, while another had spent more than four decades there. They were engineers, account clerks and administrative assistants.

Rapp, a Public Works engineer, had a passion for Scottish music, friends said. Gallagher, another Public Works engineer, had a 22-month-old son.

At the Virginia Beach home of Snelling, neighbors keep arriving, some with flowers. “Bert was a great guy. He’d do anything for you,” said one man who lives on the street who didn’t want to give his name.

Honor guards from the city police and fire departments have been assigned to each victim’s family for support, Cervera said.

Hansen, the city manager, said the city has received an outpouring of support and would be providing assistance to employees. Building 2 will remain closed, and the city services housed there will be transferred elsewhere.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said Saturday morning that he ordered flags to fly at half-staff on government buildings. President Trump tweeted he had been in contact with local and state officials.

“The Federal Government is there, and will be, for whatever they may need. God bless the families and all!” Trump tweeted.

City employee Shelia Cook, 49, returned to the complex Saturday with five members of her church, Mount Olive Baptist Church.

“Our pastor called for us to come out and pray on the grounds, because our colleagues and our neighborhoods and our city need God,” Cook said. “And we want to be able to be that light in a dark world.”

Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer vowed at a grim news conference Saturday afternoon that the city would overcome the tragedy.

“We will not be defined by this horror,” he said. “Going forward we will define ourselves as a city of love and compassion for those neighbors that we lost.”

At the same news conference, Cervera credited officers for following their training but seemed at a loss for what might have prevented the violence. If someone wants to step up security screening of employees, he said, that’s a question for other city leaders to debate.

Nick Anderson, Lindsey Bever, Paulina Firozi, Orion Donovan-Smith, Alex Horton, Jennifer Jenkins, Magda Jean-Louis, Jim Morrison, Justin Wm. Moyer, Antonio Olivo, Michael E. Ruane, Samantha Schmidt, Patricia Sullivan, Julie Tate, Debbie Truong and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

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