VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The 12 people fatally shot in a Virginia Beach government building were remembered Saturday as city officials sought to put the focus on those who died and not the gunman.
Four were engineers who worked to maintain streets and protect wetlands. Three were right-of-way agents who reviewed property lines. The others included an account clerk, a technician, an administrative assistant and a special-projects coordinator. In all, they had served the city of Virginia Beach for more than 150 years.
“They leave a void that we will never be able to fill,” said City Manager David Hansen, who had worked for years with many of the dead. Hansen led a news conference that included a slide show of the victims and their years of service.
“I have worked with most of them for many years,” Hansen said. “We want you to know who they were, so in the days and weeks to come, you will learn what they meant to all of us.”
Police Chief James Cervera identified the assailant as DeWayne Craddock, who had been employed for 15 years as an engineer with the city’s utilities department. Cervera declined to comment on a motive, though he denied that Craddock had been fired before the shootings, which ended with Craddock’s death in a gunbattle with officers.
“This was a long-term, large gunfight,” Cervera said, noting that officers rendered aid to Craddock after he was shot.
Cervera said one of the officers was hit but was saved by a bullet-resistant vest. The chief said Saturday morning that the officer was “doing well.”
City officials uttered Craddock’s name once, which Cervera said was “the only time we will announce his name.” Hansen referred to the shooter as “the 13th person.”
“Make no mistake, we are a heartbroken city,” said Julie Hill, communications director for the city. “We lost 12 people who did nothing more than go to work.”
Joseph Scott, an engineering technician with the utilities department, said he had worked with Craddock and had a brief interaction with him Friday, passing him in the men’s restroom about five minutes before the shooting.
“He was in there brushing his teeth, which he always did after he ate,” Scott said. “I said ‘Hey, how you doing? What are you doing this weekend?’ It was just a brief conversation.”
Scott said he left for the day right after and learned of the shooting when a co-worker and then his son called him asking if he was OK.
“I couldn’t believe that it happened,” he said.
Shelia Cook, 49, who works for the city, watched the response to the shooting unfold Friday.
“We could kind of hear what was going on. … We heard like popping — poom, poom, like that — and then we saw the ambulance,” Cook said. “And we saw the police. We saw all these things going on. So then we were like, ‘oh, it must be really big.'”
PIPE BAND, BIG SMILE
One of the victims had worked for Virginia Beach for 41 years. Six worked in the same department as Craddock, though authorities have declined to say if anyone was specifically targeted or if the gunman had issued threats before.
Authorities have said Craddock fired indiscriminately. The victims were found throughout the building, on three floors, police said.
One of the dead, Christopher Kelly Rapp of Powhatan, enjoyed Scottish music and joined a pipe band last fall. He played with the group in October during a Celtic festival in Virginia and marched with band mates on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Chris was reserved but very friendly, quietly engaging members one-on-one after our weekly practices,” the band, Tidewater Pipes & Drums, said in a statement.
Another victim, Mary Louise Gayle of Virginia Beach, was described as a “super sweet lady” who always had a big smile.
“She would always be out there in the yard, working on something and talking to my daughters,” John Cushman, Gayle’s next-door neighbor, told The New York Times.
The other employees who were killed were identified as Tara Welch Gallagher, Alexander Mikhail Gusev, Katherine Nixon, Ryan Keith Cox, Joshua Hardy and Michelle “Missy” Langer, all of Virginia Beach; Laquita C. Brown and Robert “Bobby” Williams, both of Chesapeake; and Richard Nettleton of Norfolk. The 12th victim, Herbert “Bert” Snelling of Virginia Beach, was a contractor who was in the building to seek a permit.
The police and fire departments were to assign members of their honor guards to help each victim’s family.
Hundreds of people attended a Saturday prayer vigil for the dead. Scott, the co-worker, said he, his wife and several others prayed for the shooter, too.
“He was a human, too, and his family is hurting, too,” Scott said. “He’s not evil … he was just another guy who had problems.”
Virginia Beach is a sprawling city of about 450,000 people. But in its core, particularly around the municipal building, it has a town-square feel.
Cook returned to the municipal building 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,” she said. “We need God right now. And we want to be able to be that light in a dark world.”
NO FELONY RECORD
Craddock, 40, graduated from Denbigh High School in nearby Newport News in 1996 and joined the Army National Guard, according to a newspaper clip from the time. He received basic military training and advanced individual training at Fort Sill, Okla. He later graduated from Old Dominion University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
Craddock appeared to have had no felony record, making him eligible to purchase guns. Government investigators identified two .45-caliber pistols used in the attack, said Ashan Benedict, the regional special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
All indications were that the shooter purchased the weapons legally, one in 2016 and one in 2018, Benedict said. The police chief said at least one had a noise suppressor.
The municipal building was open to the public, but security passes were required to enter inner offices, conference rooms and other work areas. As a current employee, Craddock would have had the pass to enter the inner offices, Hansen said.
At least three of the wounded remained hospitalized Saturday.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a physician who treated soldiers from Operation Desert Storm, visited the wounded early Saturday and said he saw similarities between their injuries and those he had seen in combat.
“It’s difficult as a physician, and it’s difficult as a human being, to see what these weapons can do to the human body,” the governor said in an interview. “I saw it during the war, and I saw it today.”
Northam said he would pursue gun-control measures “in upcoming days.”
Friday’s mass shooting was the deadliest in the United States this year. It was the worst since November, when a gunman opened fire at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., killing 12 people before fatally shooting himself.
Information for this article was contributed by Ben Finley, Denise Lavoie, Regina Garcia Cano, Michael Biesecker, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker, Michael Kunzelman and Jonathan Drew of The Associated Press; by Laura Vozzella, Ian Shapira, Justin Jouvenal, Lindsey Bever, Jennifer Jenkins, Magda Jean-Louis, Michael E. Miller, Jim Morrison, Justin Wm. Moyer, Patricia Sullivan, Julie Tate and Julie Zauzmer of The Washington Post; and by Alan Blinder, Glenn Thrush and Sandra E. Garcia of The New York Times.
A Section on 06/02/2019