VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Survivors and families of the victims who died during the May 31, 2019, mass shooting in the Virginia Beach Municipal Center held a press conference Tuesday demanding answers from city officials.
Family members say they want accountability and transparency from the City of Virginia Beach, who they say ignored their trauma and lacked care and concern following the shooting.
“It’s time for Virginia Beach to step up and own their toxic environment,” says the sister of one of the victims. The family members belong to a group called “5/31 Families United.”
Former Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax was present during the press conference. Fairfax is representing five of the Virginia Beach families, which include the families of Kate Nixon, Michelle “Missy” Langer, Joshua O. Hardy, Mary Louise Gayle and Laquita C. Brown.
“[We are] entering a powerful new season of truth,” said Fairfax, echoing the message of the family members demanding answers.
Some family members in attendance Tuesday spoke about the battles they’ve faced over the last almost four years.
“Since her untimely and preventable death, her 24 years of service have not earned her grieving or distraught family any answers or accountability. Instead, we’ve been met with manipulation, obfuscation and lies,” said Matthew Gayle, the son of Mary Louise Gayle.
Many other families shared the same sentiment about their treatment over the last few years.
“I am sure the other families can testify to this. We have been stepped on, stepped across, ignored, pushed to the side, disrespected, lied to,” said Denise Smallwood, the twin sister of Joshua Hardy.
The group is set to travel to Richmond on Wednesday for an upcoming meeting held by the Virginia Beach Mass Shooting Commission.
Watch the full press conference below.
The group is also planning to meet with Attorney General Jason Miyares and Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears.
In December, Miyares voiced his disappointment, issuing a very critical letter to the members of the commission.
He sent the letter right after the Associated Press reported on several members stepping down from the commission, which is tasked with conducting an independent investigation into the mass shooting.
“The failure of some commissioners and the City of Virginia Beach to prioritize the work of the Commission has been justifiably upsetting to the families of the victims and the community as a whole,” said Miyares. “I implore you, on behalf of the citizens of Virginia Beach and the Commonwealth of Virginia, to prioritize this Commission’s mission and treat your task with the seriousness and respect that it deserves. The families that have lost loved ones should expect nothing else.”
Fairfax stated that the discovery of an alleged personal laptop belonging to the shooter did not motivate the press conference, however, the discovery is proof that there are still questions swirling regarding the investigation.
Fairfax asks community members to urge their elected officials and demand answers for the families.
In response to the press conference, Virginia Beach shared this statement Tuesday afternoon:
The horrific events of May 31, 2019 left an indelible scar on everyone affiliated with the City of Virginia Beach, especially the families of those who died and were injured that day. Four investigative reviews have occurred in the past 3.5 years to help us try to understand this senseless tragedy:
- Our Virginia Beach Police Department conducted an in-depth internal investigation and shared the results publicly.
- Hillard Heintze conducted an independent review. We continue to implement recommendations of this report to include efforts like Human Resources centralization and security improvements through the addition of our Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Security Division.
- The City fully cooperated with the FBI. The FBI independently reviewed all known electronic data associated with the shooter.
- The City continues to assist the Commission on the May 31, 2019 Virginia Beach Mass Shooting. We have answered the questions of the commission in writing and have attended their public meeting. We continue to respond to their questions related to ongoing efforts of our organization as part of this incident.
The City has willingly supported our employees and the victims’ families since that day. While not an exhaustive list of our support, the City provided the following:
- Every victim’s family was offered individual meetings with our Police Department to review and discuss investigative findings.
- The City established a dedicated office and staff resources committed to long-term recovery efforts for those impacted and our workforce.
- The six physically injured workers have received from the City a combined $5.3M in workers compensation benefits to-date.
- The estates of the 11 employees we lost that day have received from the City a combined $1.5M in workers compensation benefits.
- The above funding is in addition to the kind donations the families/injured workers received from the United Way-administered charitable fund.
- The VB Strong Center, established October 2019, continues to offer services into 2023 to empower and uplift those affected by May 31 in their journeys to healing and resiliency.
The City shares the families’ desire to obtain a full forensic evaluation of the recently discovered laptop that allegedly belongs to the shooter. We look forward to prompt submission of this laptop to a law enforcement agency for evaluation. We share the families’ hopes that it will shed further light on May 31, 2019.City of Virginia Beach