America was reeling on Saturday after 12 people were shot dead at a government building in Virginia Beach late on Friday afternoon. It was the deadliest mass shooting this year and prompted fresh demands for gun control reform.
The 12 who died were named. Describing a “horrific crime scene”, police and city leaders said they would name the gunman only once, preferring to focus on those he killed. Four people remained in hospital, seriously injured.
Virginia Beach city manager Dave Hansen struggled to suppress sorrow and anger as he described “a senseless, incomprehensible act of violence”. As he listed the dead, his co-workers, he referred to them in the present tense.
Eleven were city employees who worked in Municipal Building Two. One was a contractor trying to get a permit. All but three lived in Virginia Beach.
Details began to emerge, in tributes from friends and family. Christopher Rapp was a member of a local bagpipe group. In a Facebook post, bandmates said he was quiet but passionate. He had only been working for the city for 11 months. Robert “Bobby” Williams, a special projects coordinator, had worked for the city for 41 years.
Laquita C Brown was remembered as someone who lit up any room. “It still doesn’t feel real,” Sinda Price wrote of the public works employee of nearly five years. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”
Ryan Keith Cox’s brother, Ervin Ray Cox Jr, wrote: “My heart is hurting because my baby brother was murdered today. I won’t hear his beautiful singing voice at church or home anymore. I loved my brother and will truly miss his caring soul. Until we meet again in heaven.”
The other victims were Tara Walsh Gallagher, Mary Louis Gayle, Alexander Mikhail Gusev, Katherine A Nixon, Richard H Nettleton, Joshua O Hardy, Michelle “Missy” Langer, and Herbert “Bert” Snelling.
They left, Hansen said, “a void we will never be able to fill”.
The injured were not named. Martin O’Grady, head of trauma at Sentara Virginia Beach hospital, told reporters one person had returned to intensive care and two needed operations “to get injuries repaired”. One person did not require urgent care, he said, “but if the injury were a little further over he probably wouldn’t be here today”.
One policeman was hurt, saved by a bulletproof vest. Police chief James Cervera said officers responded “within minutes” of the first call from Municipal Building Two. There was no verbal exchange with the gunman.
“Once he identified them he immediately opened fire,” Cervera said. “They returned fire. This was a long-term, large gunfight.” The gunman was killed by police.
The shooting stunned this resort city of 448,000 residents and 3 million annual tourists, and renewed national debate about gun violence. Joe Biden, the former vice-president running for the Democratic nomination, said he and his wife, Jill, were “heartbroken”.
“When will we finally say enough is enough?” he tweeted. “It’s long past time to hold our leaders accountable.”
Cervera named the gunman as DeWayne Craddock, 40, a 15-year employee of the public works department. According to the Associated Press, Craddock spent time in the national guard and received military training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He graduated from Old Dominion University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
Police confirmed on Saturday that he was a current employee and had not been recently terminated, as had been reported by some news outlets. The gunman gained access to the building with an active security pass.
Authorities said the gunman used a .45 caliber handgun with a suppressor and “extended” magazines. On Saturday, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Ashan Benedict told reporters the gunman carried two pistols which were purchased legally in 2016 and 2018. An unidentified firearm recovered from the gunman's home was also purchased legally.
Megan Banton, an administrative assistant, said she heard gunshots, called 911 and barricaded herself and about 20 colleagues inside an office, pushing a desk against a door. She texted her mother to say there was a gunman in the building.
“We tried to do everything we could to keep everybody safe,” Banton told the AP. “We were all just terrified. It felt like it wasn’t real, like we were in a dream. You are just terrified because all you can hear is the gunshots.”
Virginia Beach is the biggest city in its eponymous state. Mayor Bobby Dyer called Friday “the most devastating day” in the history of his city.
It was the deadliest instance of US gun violence since November 2018, when a dozen people were killed at a bar and grill in Thousand Oaks, California. Other recent death tolls include 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016; 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas in October 2017; 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018; and 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October.
On Saturday, Donald Trump tweeted that he had spoken to Virginia governor Ralph Northam and city leaders “to offer condolences to that great community. The federal government is there, and will be, for whatever they may need. God bless the families and all!”
The president is a close ally of the National Rifle Association, which is headquartered in Virginia. Democrats competing to take on Trump were quick to demand reform. Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, wrote on Twitter: “The days of the NRA controlling Congress and writing our gun laws must end. Congress must listen to the American people and pass gun safety legislation.”
In a statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed to a bill passed in February when she said the House had “passed common sense, bipartisan gun violence prevention legislation”. But the prospect of an end to business as usual still appears remote.
“The Senate must bring these bills to a vote,” Pelosi said. As the upper chamber is controlled by Republicans, that remains unlikely.