COURTHOUSE – A city worker killed a dozen people and wounded four more at the Municipal Center in the late afternoon of Friday, May 31, before the gunman was killed after a sustained battle with police inside an office building near City Hall.
The carnage shocked the city, commonwealth and nation, and it sent the sprawling municipal center campus into a lockdown as rescue officials tried to help the wounded and other survivors and secure structures neighboring Building 2, where authorities said the shooter, who acted alone, centered his violent acts.
“This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,” Mayor Bobby Dyer, his emotions clear, said on Friday. “The people involved are our friends, coworkers, neighbors, colleagues.”
City Councilmember Aaron Rouse, speaking during the same press conference, added, “This day will not define Virginia Beach.”
Including the gunman, 13 people were dead as of late Friday night.
Police Chief Jim Cervera said the suspect, who has not been identified, left victims on each floor of the office building, which housed departments such as city utilities, public works and planning. An additional victim in a car outside the building.
The alleged killer entered the building after 4 p.m. and fired “indiscriminately,” Cervera said during a news conference, one of two held on Friday in the hours after the shooting.
Four police officers – described by Cervera as two veteran supervisors from the detective bureau and two K9 handlers assigned to special operations – initially responded to the scene and followed the sound of the violence before engaging in a battle with the alleged killer.
“They immediately engaged with the suspect, and I can tell you that it was a long, gun battle between those four officers and that suspect.”
The gunman shot one officer, but the chief said that officer survived due to their protective vest. Police recovered a .45 caliber handgun with multiple extended magazines, and the suspect had a suppressor for the weapon to muffle its sound.
Police stopped the suspect from committing more crimes, Cervera said. Despite the carnage, officers rendered first aid to the suspect after he went down from his injuries.
Cervera on Friday noted that number of victims in the case had changed after one person succumbed to injuries on the way to the hospital, and number might change again over time.
Cervera said they have identified the supect in the case but needed to notify family members. “Once we are able to do that, we will release his name once,” Cervera said. “We’re going to mention his name once. And then he will forever be referred to as ‘the suspect.’ Our focus now is the dignity and respect for the victims in this case and to their families.”
The tragedy in Virginia Beach is believed to be the largest shooting in the city’s history, and it marked the largest known loss of life to a mass shooting this year in the U.S., according to a database maintained by Mother Jones.
It was the largest mass shooting since a gunman slaughtered 12 people and wounded 22 others at a nightclub in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, according to the database and media reports.
Throughout the afternoon police investigated a large area in and outside the building, including one small area where a green, blood-stained shirt rested near North Landing Road. City workers were released from buildings into the early evening, leaving as they could, though municipal lots remained largely full.
Loved ones arrived and waited at the scene, though some were directed to another location. A center for families was established at Princess Anne Middle School. Earlier in the day, some people had been directed to a local church.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam spoke during a press conference late Friday at the Courthouse. Dozens of reporters, including national news organizations were there, and the governor was flanked by state officials, city leaders and members of law enforcement agencies.
“This is a horrific day for the commonwealth of Virginia,” Northam said. “Our hearts ache over the senseless violence that has been inflicted upon the Virginia Beach community today. My deepest condolences and prayers go to the families of those who left home this morning and will not return tonight.
“They were all someone’s child, and many were someone’s parent,” the governor continued. “They were heading into the summer weekend. That they should be taken in this manner is the worst kind of tragedy. Their families are facing painful loss and grief. They each leave a hole in a family, in their neighborhood, in this community and in our commonwealth.”
Virginia mourns with those who have suffered loss, he said, vowing support for survivors and loved ones.
“But sympathy doesn’t fill that hole,” Northam said. “We must take care of these families. These horrific tragedies test our souls. Grief doesn’t pass quickly.”
Northam also commended law enforcement and first responders for their response to the tragedy.
“Their actions likely saved lives,” Northam said.
Dyer spoke after the governor.
“Today is Virginia Beach’s darkest hour,” he said. “This senseless crime happened and imposed tremendous grief upon the people of Virginia Beach, the commonwealth and this country. When we get through the shock of it all, and we get through the details we must go through over the next day or two, I believe that our community, Virginia Beach, along with our neighbors in our other cities in Hampton Roads and our commonwealth and our country will be there for the families. …
“We’re going to show that Virginia Beach is a city of resolve and dedication,” he added. “We are going to be there for all the families, the friends and our community in a big way.”
Evening report on Friday:
Twelve people are dead, including a suspected gunman, in the wake of the active shooter incident reported this afternoon at the municipal center, according to Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera.
Cervera said the suspected shooter was a current city employee who entered Building 2 after 4 p.m. and fired upon people there “indiscriminately.” Police responded, were fired upon and returned fire.
“The suspect is deceased,” the chief said.
Six additional people were taken to local hospitals, but Cervera said their conditions were not available.
One city police officer was shot but survived due to their protective vest.
“This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,” Mayor Bobby Dyer said. “The people involved are our friends, coworkers, neighbors, colleagues.”
Initial report on Friday:
City police reported an activate shooter situation at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center at about 4:30 p.m.
It was at Building 2, and multiple injuries were reported. Police have reported they believe one suspect was involved. That person is in custody.
Police are still searching buildings and directing family members to a nearby church.
Lots of police, sheriff’s deputies and emergency responders on scene. Building 2, adjacent to City Hall, houses planning, utilities and public works offices.
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