VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WRIC) — It was the worst tragedy the city of Virginia Beach had ever endured. Months after a mass shooting claimed the lives of 12 people, many questions remain unanswered, however.
GUNMAN OPENS FIRE IN CITY BUILDING:
On May 31, 2019, a disgruntled employee fatally shot 12 people — 11 city employees and one contractor – and injured four others, including a police officer with a .45 caliber handgun with a suppressor and an extended magazine inside the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
The gunman, police later identified as 40-year-old DeWayne Craddock, was shot and killed by responding officers. A police investigation revealed the 40-year-old was a worker in the Public Utilities Department and had resigned from the position hours before the shooting. The shooter opened fire in Building 2 of the municipal center, which is adjacent to City Hall.
Police Chief Jim Cervera confirmed that Craddock was not fired nor was in the process of being terminated from his position prior to the shooting.
The 12 victims who lost their lives were identified as Laquita Brown, Tara Gallagher, Mary Gayle, Alexander Gusev, Katherine Nixon, Richard Nettleton, Ryan Cox, Joshua Hardy, Michelle Langer, Robert Williams, Herbert Snelling and Christopher Rapp.
A resident of Powhatan, Rapp had been working in Virginia Beach for less than a year when he was killed. 8News spoke with neighbors who said Rapp was a “very caring person.”
The shooting sent shock waves through Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city and a popular vacation spot in southeastern Virginia.
“This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,” said Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer in the aftermath of the shooting.
Governor Ralph Northam called the tragedy “a horrific day for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Both President Donald Trump and Gov. Northam ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of the victims. The deadly shooting led to an outpour of support from officials locally and nationwide, as well as neighboring localities in Hampton Roads.
Virginia Beach City Public Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence asked students to wear blue on the Monday following the shooting in honor of the victims. Henrico County and Cumberland County were one of many Central Virginia school districts that showed solidarity with Virginia Beach’s plea.
Memorial services were held throughout various parts of the state. Powhatan honored Rapp, a 9-day vigil was held in Chesterfield County, and Virginia Beach residents paid their respects over the span of days.
Virginia Beach Native Pharrell Williams, who one-month prior had organized and performed at the successful Something in the Water festival, exclaimed “We are resilient. We will not only get through this, but we’ll come out of this stronger than before we always do. #VIRGINIABEACH”
Craddock’s family released a written statement on the front door of their home in response to the shooting. Offering their condolences, the letter read in part, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who loss their lives, and those recovering in the hospital.”
Some city employees even offered forgiveness to the gunman.
POLICE PROBE BEGINS:
A months-long probe by multiple agencies offered no clear answer as to what caused the shooting.
An agent with ATF ( Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) revealed they recovered two, .45 caliber handguns from the scene of the shooting and two other guns from Craddock’s home. All of the guns were purchased legally.
A city investigation found that none of the four officers who engaged the shooting suspect in a gun battle had body cameras.
As for a motive, the Virginia Beach Police Department couldn’t pinpoint what led Craddock to murder 12 people, despite many hours of investigative work. Virginia Beach Police conducted more than 750 interviews and compiled more than 50,000 computer files.
Officers found the gunman had no prior criminal history. There was no documentation of threats or verbal/physical encounters at the workplace, according to the police’s investigation. Co-workers interviewed described Craddock as quiet, polite, a nice guy and a good listener. The probe also found that the gunman shot both people he knew and didn’t know.
Several families of the victims and state lawmakers called for an independent investigation separate from the police department and FBI.
A Chicago-based security risk management firm, Hillard Heintze was tasked with conducting an independent investigation. More than 300,000 emails, thousands of documents and 10 hours of camera footage and 911 calls were reviewed.
A full report was released in November, although the agency did not find conclusive reasoning as to why the shooting occurred.
“I think you say ‘why?’ Everybody wants a nice clean reason — and in this case that didn’t come forward,” said Debra Kirby following a 16-week probe into the massacre.
SHOOTING INTENSIFIES DEBATE OVER GUNS:
Gun control proposals gained momentum after the shooting.
Governor Ralph Northam called a special legislative session on gun control after saying the mass shooting called for “votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.”
But the special legislative session held in July failed to produce any new gun control bills. Republicans shut it down after just 90 minutes, instead opting until the November elections.
In November, a Republican-led legislative commission in Virginia could not offer any solutions for curbing gun violence after being tasked to do so. The commission issued a short report saying that staff found “inconclusive evidence” was available to develop recommendations.
The news came after Virginia Democrats seized control of the Senate and House after campaigning, in part, for stricter gun laws.
THE SECOND AMENDMENT SANCTUARY MOVEMENT BEGINS:
As Democrats backed tighter restrictions on guns, firearm owners looked to protect their Second Amendment right to bear arms. The Second Amendment Sanctuary movement gained momentum with several gun owners descending on local offices to demand that their government leaders establish sanctuaries for gun rights.
More than 100 cities, towns and counties have gone on to pass second amendment sanctuaries resolutions. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said these decisions have “no legal effect” however, adding that localities “cannot nullify state laws” and must follow gun violence prevention measures passed by the General Assembly.
A new bipartisan law signed by President Donald Trump will make it easier for people to donate to those affected by the Virginia Beach mass shooting. Trump signed into law the Virginia Beach Strong Act (HR 4566), which ensures donations to the shooting victims’ families are tax-deductible.
In the months following the massacre, the Virginia Pilot reports vacancies within the public works and Public Utilities Department have increased. According to the newspaper, the shortages are leading to a backlog of work, with some projects being delayed by months or possibly even years.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.