Police in Virginia searched Saturday for a motive as to why a city engineer fired indiscriminately at his workplace colleagues, turning a municipal building into a war zone as he killed at least 12 people and wounded four before being fatally shot himself.
Authorities named the gunman in Friday’s attack as DeWayne Craddock, described in news reports as being 40 years of age. They said that to focus attention on the latest victims of America’s gun violence epidemic, they would not pronounce his name again in public.
Craddock, killed in a fierce gun battle with police, was a current employee of the public works department of Virginia Beach and had worked there about 15 years, police chief James Cervera told a news conference.
Cervera declined to say if Craddock had been disciplined in recent weeks. The Wall Street Journal reported that he had recently been fired. Other press reports said he had served in the Army National Guard after graduating from high school.
US President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday that he had spoken by phone to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and to Virginia Beach officials to offer his condolences, adding, “God bless the families and all!”
Northam, speaking at a prayer vigil outside a movie theater, asked rhetorically, “Why do these tragedies happen? And I don’t have an answer for that, but God knows… And God is in control here.”
A dozen victims
City Manager Dave Hansen began the news conference by showing slides with photos of the 12 fatalities — seven men and five women — as he slowly read their names out. All but one victim worked for the coastal city, which is about a four-hour drive southeast of Washington.
Police responding Friday to emergency calls from the municipal center, a campus of 30 red brick buildings, engaged the shooter within minutes, Cervera said.
Craddock was armed with a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol equipped with a sound suppressor and several high-capacity magazines, and he shot people on all three floors of the building, Cervera said.
People locked themselves inside offices and cowered on the floor as the gun battle raged. Bullet casings littered the floor, news reports said.
“This was a long-term, large gun battle,” the police chief said. One officer was shot but survived thanks to his bullet-proof vest.
After the massacre more guns were found at the scene and at Craddock’s home, Cervera said.
‘The most devastating day’
The large building where the shooting took place in Virginia Beach — a city of 450,000 people that is home to a major US Navy base — housed the city’s public works and utilities offices.
Under heavy rain Saturday, police guarded the building as FBI agents and forensic experts scoured the shooting site.
“This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,” Mayor Bobby Dyer told reporters Friday night. “The people involved are our friends, co-workers, neighbors and colleagues.”
Dozens of mourners, many of them sobbing, gathered in the parking lot where Northam spoke to pay tribute to the victims. Someone quietly strummed a guitar.
“This is something that shouldn’t happen,” said Mary Sullivan Trent, a local pastor. “And this is something that we should be, as people, working to prevent from ever happening again.”
One local resident, Anthony Moore, called the scene “very surreal,” adding, “I didn’t think anything like this would ever happen in our town.”
Megan Banton, a public utilities employee, told local television station WVEC that during the chaos she and about 20 co-workers hid in an office, where they used a desk to wedge the door shut.
“We just wanted to try to keep everybody safe,” she said, adding that the wait for police to arrive felt like “hours.”
“We heard gunshots. We kept hearing gunshots and we kept hearing the cops saying, ‘Get down.'”
A neighbor said that Craddock, who lived in an apartment upstairs, kept to himself and was up at odd hours.
“You heard him walking around. He would drop stuff at like 2 a.m., and me and my roommate would try to figure out what he was doing,” Cassetty Howerin told CNN affiliate WAVY.
“He was very to himself.”
150th mass shooting
According to the Washington-based Gun Violence Archive monitoring group, Friday’s shooting was the 150th mass shooting — with four or more people shot or killed — in the United States this year.
“We’re only 151 days into 2019 and there have already been 150 mass shootings. This reality is horrifying,” tweeted Gabrielle Giffords, a former congresswoman who was seriously injured in a mass shooting in 2011.
US gun ownership laws are among the most lax in developed countries, and legislative efforts to address the issue have long been deadlocked.
But among Democrats, the response to the latest shooting was pointed.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi decried the “devastating toll” of gun violence. Noting that the House had already passed “commonsense, bipartisan” gun legislation, she added, “The Senate must bring these bills to a vote.”
And Senator Bernie Sanders, a presidential aspirant, added, “This sickening gun violence must stop.”