Virginia Beach Shooting: A City Grieves Its Workers a Day After Horror – The New York Times

VIRGINIA BEACH — Eleven of them were civil servants, the kind of people who worked on construction projects and water quality and right of way issues. Another was a local contractor who had come by to talk about a permit.

Between them, they had more than 150 years of experience helping to make Virginia’s largest city work — the unelected, behind-the-scenes figures who drew up plans, issued permits and performed the vital jobs that help keep a community intact. And on Friday, their lives ended with a man’s barrage of bullets in a three-floor rampage that once again pushed the nation’s death toll from mass shootings higher.

“Today, we all grieve,” David L. Hansen, the Virginia Beach city manager, said on Saturday. “I have worked with most of them for many years. 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.”

He then began a grim, halting roll call of the dead, their jobs and their lengths of service. He started with LaQuita Brown, and he ended with Herbert Snelling, the contractor. It lasted nearly three minutes.

Only after the last name was read did Mr. Hansen pause and ask the police chief to talk about “that 13th person,” the 15-year city employee who opened fire in Building No. 2. Chief James A. Cervera identified the dead suspect, DeWayne Craddock, and said it would be “the only time we will announce his name.”

[What we know about the gunman.]

So as state troopers stood guard and F.B.I. agents in cargo pants collected evidence at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on Saturday, the city — a mix of a three-mile beachfront boardwalk lined with hotels, a naval air station and old and new shopping centers — was left to take stock of those it had so suddenly lost.

Investigators outside the Virginia Beach Municipal Center today.CreditEliot Dudik for The New York Times

Virginia Beach is a sprawling city of about 450,000 people. But in its core, particularly around the municipal complex, it has a town-square feel, with all the cross-connected relationships of a much smaller place. When Mayor Bobby Dyer saw the list of the dead, his heart fell. These were people everyone knew.

There was Alexander Mikhail Gusev, an immigrant from Belarus who had worked as a right of way agent and had been with the city for more than nine years. Before the gunfire, he had planned to spend Friday evening with his twin brother, repairing a property in nearby Portsmouth.

“It was getting late, so I called him and, you know, there was no answer,” said Aliaksei Huseu, standing in the doorway of his brother’s rowhouse on Saturday morning. “He was a hard worker, but he liked fun. He would act a little bit like the fool just to make everybody smile. Everybody’s crying. I’m not. I have a lot of thoughts in my head, but I’m not crying. I don’t know why.”

Mary Louise Gayle had worked for the city for more than 24 years and reached a sweet spot in her life, friends and neighbors said. She had been looking forward to receiving a free day at a spa, a reward for her work in the right of way section of the public utilities division.

Ms. Gayle, a single mother in her 60s who had raised a son and daughter on her own, was known in the neighborhood for spending hours working in the yard of her meticulously maintained ranch house a few miles from work. She had recently pulled down a dying pine tree, and replaced it with a pair of azalea bushes — which were starting to flower in front of her empty house on Saturday.

“She was a super sweet lady; she always had this big smile,” said her next-door neighbor John Cushman, 33, a firefighter in Portsmouth. “She would always be out there in the yard, working on something and talking to my daughters.”

Ryan Keith Cox had lately been dividing his time between his work as an account clerk and his preparations for his first sermon.


Sharon Jones, who works at the municipal center, laid flowers at a memorial on Saturday. “Our life will never be the same,” she said.CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

Recently he felt “the Lord called him to preach,” his brother said, and wanted to follow his father, who has been a pastor for 56 years. “He felt that it was time,” said Ervin Cox Jr., Mr. Cox’s older brother.

“This is hard. It hurts, it hurts deep,” Ervin Cox said Saturday.

And there was Ms. Brown, a Jehovah’s Witness who was a native of this coastal shipbuilding region. She was already fluent in French, and was learning Japanese and sign language so she could spread her faith.

“That’s my heart, that’s my first born,” her father, Dwight G. Brown Sr., said as he began to cry. “I have two kids; now I only have a son. This is devastating.”

Mr. Snelling, the only non-city employee to die in the attack, was a contractor who had worked for the mayor, replacing a sliding glass wall in his bedroom, fixing trim, rebuilding his balcony.

“He was phenomenal — personable, a consummate professional, a perfectionist, a great carpenter, and just about the nicest human being you will ever meet,” Mr. Dyer said.

The city identified each of the other victims: Tara Welch Gallagher, an engineer; Katherine A. Nixon, an engineer who spent more than a decade working for Virginia Beach; Richard H. Nettleton, a 28-year veteran of city government who served alongside Mr. Hansen in the Army; Christopher Kelly Rapp, who joined the municipal government less than a year ago; Joshua O. Hardy, an engineering technician; Michelle Langer, known as Missy, who was an administrative assistant; and Robert Williams, a Public Utilities Department employee for 41 years.

[The names of the dead.]

At least three more people were listed in critical condition at local hospitals on Saturday.


A slide of the victims in the Virginia Beach shooting was shown during a news conference on Saturday.CreditEric Baradat/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Gov. Ralph Northam, a physician who treated soldiers from Operation Desert Storm, visited the wounded early Saturday and said he emerged seeing similarities between their injuries and those he had seen in combat.

“Its difficult as a physician, and it’s difficult as a human being, to see what these weapons can do to the human body,” said the governor in an interview. “I saw it during the war, and I saw it today. It has an effect on you, no question about it.”

Relatives of the dead learned the extent of the carnage early on Saturday morning, Mr. Cox said, when they were told at a middle school who had died.

“Just to have such a senseless thing done to take his life, to take him away from us,” Mr. Cox said.

Although there are hundreds of workplace-related homicides a year, according to federal government data, most happen under far different circumstances, like robbery or domestic violence.

City officials would not discuss the suspect or his work history in detail, but they said that he was an employee at the time of the attack, that he had held a security access card and that he had been “authorized” to be where he was.

A person familiar with the investigation, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that the 40-year-old gunman had no record of workplace behavioral problems until recently, when he got into physical “scuffles” with other employees, including a violent altercation that he was told would lead to discipline.


Governor Northam ordered state flags to be flown at half-staff until next weekend.CreditEliot Dudik for The New York Times

Chief Cervera refused to discuss a possible motive for the attack, which he said left “a horrific crime scene” and provoked “a long-term, large gunfight” with police officers who responded to 911 calls.

Two handguns found with the suspect were purchased legally in 2016 and 2018, the authorities said. And officials said that two other weapons were found during a search of the gunman’s apartment; at least one had been purchased legally. The suspect spent time in the Virginia National Guard, and court records did not suggest a history with the legal system beyond traffic violations.

[Read more about the attack in Virginia Beach.]

Mr. Northam, who ordered state flags to be flown at half-staff until next weekend, said that he would pursue gun control measures “in upcoming days.”

“There are things we can do as governor,” said Mr. Northam, a Democrat who also attended a vigil on Saturday outside a Virginia Beach movie theater.

The vigil drew a handful of city employees, some of whom stood in the crowd and were overcome with emotion. A man, dressed in a white button-down shirt with the city government’s logo, received hugs as faith leaders sang, backed by acoustic guitars.

He turned to leave.

“It’s just too much,” he said.

By then, cul-de-sacs and streets around the area were filled with cars as family members and friends gathered at the homes of the dead. At Mr. Snelling’s home, where a patriotic wreath hung a few feet above a sign that read “God shed his grace on thee,” tearful neighbors hurried past an R.V. that was parked in the driveway.

And Mr. Cushman, the neighbor of Ms. Gayle who recalled how she would speak to his 2- and 4-year-old daughters, paused when he considered how he would tell them.

“I won’t,” he said. “They are too young.”