Virginia Beach shooting shatters the community and re-ignites debate over gun laws

By Keya Vakil
June 3, 2019

The week was almost over. Eleven Virginia Beach city employees and one contractor were hours, if not minutes away from going home for the weekend.

But at 4:08 p.m. on Friday, a fellow city employee stormed into the Virginia Beach municipal center and carried out the deadliest mass shooting in the United States in 2019.

Over the course of 36 minutes, the gunman killed 12 people, before he himself was killed during a shootout with police.

The victims

Eleven of the victims were city employees and one was a contractor who was at the building to file a permit.

The city identified the victims as Virginia Beach residents Ryan Keith Cox, Michelle “Missy” Langer, Tara Welch Gallagher, Mary Louise Gayle, Alexander Mikhail Gusev, Katherine A. Nixon, Joshua O. Hardy and Herbert “Bert” Snelling; Chesapeake residents Laquita C. Brown and Robert “Bobby” Williams; Norfolk resident Richard H. Nettleton; and Powhatan resident Christopher Kelly Rapp.

Rapp had worked for the city for just 11 months, while Robert Williams had been there for 41 years.

Tara Welch Gallagher left behind a 22-month-old son while Katherine A. Nixon left behind three daughters, including a 15-month-old.

All twelve victims left behind grief-stricken families and friends, some of whom shared stories about their loved ones with the Washington Post and the Virginian-Pilot.

While friends, families and the city of Virginia Beach mourns the victims, officials continue to investigate the deadly massacre.

The investigation

The shooter, identified as DeWayne Craddock, had been a public utilities engineer for 15 years and had put in his resignation to his superiors on Friday morning, according to Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen.

Law enforcement officials blanketed the crime scene and found two legally purchased .45-caliber pistols, according to CNN. Craddock also used a gun equipped with a suppressor, better known as a silencer, to muffle the sound of his gunfire.

Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera said the shooter “fired indiscriminately” on several floors of the building and described the exchange with police as a “long-term, large gunfight,” to stop the shooter.

It was a “horrific crime scene,” Cervera said on Saturday, adding that the day’s events had taken “a physical, emotional, and psychological toll on everyone who spent the night in that building.”

On Sunday, Cervera provided a harrowing minute-by-minute account of the tragedy, a timeline of which can be found over at the Virginian-Pilot.

As for the suspect, authorities are still searching for a motive and would not discuss any evidence found at the shooter’s house.

Craddock’s family posted a note on their door on Saturday, sending their “heartfelt condolences to the victims.”

The shooting was the deadliest in Virginia since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, and four other victims still remain in the hospital in critical condition according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Reactions to the tragedy

In the aftermath of the shooting, reactions poured in from around the Virginia community.

Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer said Friday was “the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach. The people involved are our friends, coworkers, neighbor, colleagues. “

Gov. Ralph Northam immediately traveled to Virginia Beach and released a statement, saying “This is unspeakable, senseless violence. I commend local and state law enforcement, first responders, medical teams, and all others who acted swiftly to respond to this situation. My thoughts continue to be with the victims and their families.”  

During an interview with NPR, Northam also indicated he’d make a renewed push for gun control legislation after a year in which the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly defeated a slew of gun safety bills.

Gun legislation

One bill that’s likely to be further scrutinized is SB 1748, which would have banned sales of large-capacity magazines similar to those used by the Virginia Beach gunman. The bill died in committee in January, on a party-line vote.

The vote surprised no one, as it continued a two decade-long trend of Virginia Republicans obstructing any form of gun control legislation.

Even after 33 people were killed in the Virginia Tech massacre, the GOP blocked a major push for gun control, and in 2019, more than a decade after that attack, it’s actually easier to buy a gun in Virginia.

Northam was not alone in his calls to address the issue of gun laws, as several other Virginia Democrats also chimed in on the need to fight for policies that will address the state and the country’s gun violence epidemic.

Republicans, meanwhile, toed the party line. In an email to the Washington Post, state. Sen Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) said that it was too soon after the killings to talk politics, accusing Democrats of using a tragedy to promote their political agenda.

Despite Norment’s desire to avoid the issue, there’s no doubt that the shooting is likely to spark further debate over gun control in Virginia, a state that the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave a “D” rating because of its lax gun laws.

According to Giffords, someone is killed with a gun every 9 hours in Virginia and the Virginia Beach shooting marks the fifth mass shooting in the Commonwealth in 2019.

Giffords also reports that gun violence also costs Virginia more than $1.9 billion in directly measurable costs each year and $5.3 billion when indirect costs, such as pain and suffering, are factored in.

A community in mourning

While the law enforcement investigation continues and the debate over gun laws heats up, the Virginia Beach community is trying to begin the healing process.

Many residents are turning to faith and each other to help cope, as the Virginian-Pilot reports, while others opened up to the Washington Post, expressing their fears that Virginia Beach will be forever associated with its darkest day.

While that concern is palpable, the community’s resilience is clear something that Rep. Elaine Luria, who represents Virginia Beach in the House of Representatives, highlighted in a tweet thread on Sunday.

As residents continue to mourn, the city will hold an official event to remember the victims on June 6 at 7 p.m. at Rock Church, located at 640 Kempsville Road.

The city has also set up a website with dedicated information about the shooting, including how people can help the families of victims.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

CATEGORIES: Uncategorized


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