Ed. — From the Sunday, March 28, print edition.
BY DAVE GULLIVER AND JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE
VIRGINIA BEACH — The Virginia Beach Police Department’s report on the May 31, 2019, mass shooting that killed 12 people and wounded four others provides almost minute-by-minute details on the killer’s actions and path through Building 2 at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, but it does not provide survivors, family and friends with what so many people want to know.
“The overarching question regarding motive remains unanswered,” says the report, released on Wednesday, March 24. “The shooter … left no note nor any other account that would explain his actions. There were no common characteristics among the victims who were killed and injured relating to their age, race or gender.”
The release of the summary of the police department’s final investigations – some investigative materials have been withheld – was delivered first to families of the 5/31 victims and then released to the public. The summary builds upon an earlier report by an outside firm hired by the city and an interim report by the police.
City Manager Patrick Duhaney, in a letter to the families of victims, wrote that the investigation found no evidence that shed light on the killer’s motive.
“We know this is one of the most difficult findings to accept, and we know you may still have questions,” wrote Duhaney, who became city manager the year following the mass shooting.
He wrote that family members can arrange a follow-up meeting with Police Chief Paul Neudigate, who also joined the Virginia Beach government this past year, to review other parts of the investigative file.
Jason Nixon, whose wife, Kate Nixon, died during the tragedy, provided a copy of Duhaney’s letter to The Independent News and other media outlets. Reached by phone on Wednesday, March 24, he said he scheduled a meeting.
He was disappointed by the report for failing to discuss motives or address actions of city officials, calling it “a joke.”
“They need to hold human resources accountable for their actions or lack of actions,” Nixon said, speaking of issues the gunman had at work. “… For them to say there’s no motive, that’s just a cop-out. They’re just afraid of liability.”
Nixon, who has advocated for the release of investigative records, said he believes an independent inquiry through the state will find answers about issues such as motive.
“All I want is accountability,” he said. “I want them to be accountable for what happened to my wife and her coworkers.”
Debbie Langer Borato, who lives in Florida, lost her sister, Missy Langer, in the tragedy. On Wednesday, March 24, Borato said she had not yet reviewed the full final summary, but she had not yet seen much new information.
She said she didn’t feel much more was going to change, and she said there is a lack of trust that the city will fully discuss internal issues that contributed to the events of May 31, 2019. She said she believes workplace frustrations led to the violence and that the gunman targeted people.
“My question is how much do they report?” she said. “How much do they skip? …
“What information is going to be here? The information the city wants out. I wasn’t surprised by anything that’s in there.”
Duhaney said the city alerted families a week in advance that the summary was coming and then delivered copies before it was released publicly, along with an invitation for a one-on-one meeting to review some investigative materials.
Both Duhaney and Neudigate said they understood the frustrations with unanswered questions. They spoke during an interview at the municipal center on Wednesday, March 24.
“I think the sentiment is felt by everybody, including the families, including the workforce,” Duhaney said. “It’s incredibly frustrating to not know why your loved one is not here, why your work colleague is no longer able to work with you, and you don’t know why that person was taken away from you or why a victim had to suffer a terrible incident at work.”
Neudigate said information that was not released with the summary is part of the criminal investigative file, but families will have an opportunity to meet and review “relevant portions” of the investigative file.
Some information would still have to go through the legal redaction process, Neudigate said.
“We extend that opportunity for them to come in and ask us the pointed questions,” he said.
“There’s really no secret to it,” the chief said. “What was released today is a compilation of all of the evidence, the data, the interviews that the detectives have worked so hard to put together for the past two years. … This was our best-faith effort to compile that in a document and answer the vast majority of the questions out there. …
“The men and women of the Virginia Beach Police Department and this community worked very hard to try to provide as much transparency to our community and the survivors as we could,” Neudigate said.
The big question, he said, is why did the gunman do what he did?
“At this point, we just don’t know,” he said.
Duhaney said he and the chief wanted to bring a fresh set of eyes to issues related to the mass shooting. “The first thing I want everybody to understand is the city is incredibly frustrated,” Duhaney said, speaking of the lack of answers. “We don’t know why. We don’t know why we lost our employees. We don’t know why victims’ families are suffering for the loss of a loved one or the injury of a loved one. The other thing is recovery is a long-term process.”
Tools are in place to help workers and families, he said.
The VB Strong Center, a partnership of the city and Sentara, is available, and people effected by the 5/31 tragedy can reach out by calling (757) 507-7200.
Investigators interviewed 523 people and collected 504 pieces of physical evidence and more than 10 terabytes of digital evidence, searching for connections between the victims and the shooter, and any signs of what might have prompted his actions. Craddock’s family also was interviewed.
The search turned up empty, the report said: “The investigation uncovered no evidence of any commonalities among the victims that established a general motive.”
The report provides a detailed account of the events of May 31, 2019, at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, which at first seemed almost mundane: The shooter, DeWayne Craddock, a city engineer, showed up for work at Building 2 on time, submitted his resignation by email, toured some work sites and talked with co-workers.
Near day’s end, he went to his car. A co-worker waved goodbye as the shooter stood by his car.
Moments later, Craddock pulled out a .45 caliber handgun, equipped with a noise suppressor, grabbed a backpack with another gun and more ammunition, and he began shooting.
The report documents the entire rampage, 44 minutes from first shots fired to the Virginia Beach SWAT team storming an area where the shooter had barricaded himself and taking the badly wounded man into custody. He later died at Virginia Beach General Hospital.
A city police officer also was shot that day, but a bulletproof vest saved him.
With pages of floor plans and timeline charts, it maps out the shooter’s path and the location of his victims. It describes some moments of frantic activity and of inexplicable luck, both good and bad.
After shooting one victim, the killer “encountered another co-worker with whom he had an emotional conversation earlier in the day, well before the shooting started. He pointed a firearm at this coworker but did not shoot or talk to them as he walked past.”
Several people told investigators of the heroism of Ryan Keith Cox, who gathered at least seven fellow employees into a secure room before leaving to find more co-workers and bring them to safety.
“Shortly after he secured the door, witnesses reported hearing a gunshot,” the report said. Cox died in the tragedy.
The U.S. Post Office near the municipal center, where some people sought shelter on the day of the tragedy, is now named for Cox.
Minutes after the heroic actions of Cox, Virginia Beach police—on the scene less than two minutes after the 911 center dispatched them – found the shooter on the second floor.
“The lead officer saw the suspect through a window in the door pointing a handgun at the officer,” the report says.
“The officer fired and struck the suspect. The suspect, injured but still active, maneuvered out of the view of the officers. The officers were unable to pursue the suspect through that door as they did not have rights to the key entry doors.
“The suspect positioned himself behind a second locked door located north of and behind the officers. The suspect ambushed the officers by rapidly firing multiple shots of .45 caliber handgun rounds through the locked door directly at the four officers who were standing in the hallway. One of the officers (a sergeant) was shot in the torso … The shot was absorbed by the officer’s ballistic panel. As the injured officer was being evacuated under fire, remaining officers continued to return fire. A standoff existed until police SWAT executed a tactical maneuver to breach the locked door and take the suspect into custody.”
In some places, the report provides minute details, including the appended FBI report tracing at least 133 bullet trajectories and identifying at least 570 impacts of bullets or debris from gunshots.
It provides a comprehensive review of the shooter’s work history, which was unremarkable until mid-2017, around the time of his divorce. At that point, investigators found, his performance suffered, and reviews indicated he was not meeting expectations and needed to make improvements. However, there were no substantiated reports of any violent or threatening incidents, the report says.
The report notes that an FBI behavioral analysis report is not yet complete, but indicates even that is unlikely to provide answers: “Despite exhaustive investigative work and in spite of unsubstantiated rumors and accusations, it appears we may never know why he committed this heinous act.”
The report related to the May 31, 2019, mass shooting is available at this link.
© 2021 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC