Virginia Beach city manager quits after shooting victims' families criticize handling of investigation

By Sean Galvin

August 28, 2019

Facing mounting criticism over his response to the recent mass shooting in Virginia Beach, City Manager Dave Hansen said Wednesday that he would resign his position. 

The resignation comes after at least three victims’ families said they were frustrated at how Hansen handled the investigation of the May 31 shooting in a public building that left 12 dead. For weeks, these families have called for him to leave, the Virginia Pilot reports, citing a lack of transparency and insufficient progress updates as reasons he should resign.

Most victims’ families still waiting to hear from investigators

Hansen is not the only person involved with the investigation on the chopping block. After a city council meeting on Tuesday, Arnette Heintze, co-founder of Hillard Heintze, was confronted by Sonja Snelling, the widow of a private contractor killed in the attack. Snelling said she felt “pushed aside” by the firm.

Since launching its investigation into the shooting, the firm has reviewed records, body camera footage, emails and attachments. It has held four listening sessions and interviewed 90 people, including 47 employees who worked in the building where the shooting happened. But the firm has only interviewed four of the 12 families who lost relatives in the attack. Several families said they hadn’t been contacted at all, yet.

Snelling said that her family has not been invited to interview with the firm and was not informed when the firm held the two public listening sessions. The families of victims Josh Hardy, Missy Langer, and Kate Nixon likewise said that they felt overlooked. “We don’t feel like we are being treated correctly,” Jason Nixon, Kate Nixon’s husband, said to the Virginia-Pilot. “We are not being given updates.”

Investigating firm says victim’s concerns outside of scope

Organizations like the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference have also aired grievances over Heintze’s performance. Last week the group of religious leaders called out the firm for ignoring the roles a toxic work environment and racial tensions might have played in the shooting. “We believe the work culture was a contributing factor to what happened,” Gary McCollum, a member of the conference said, “and it could happen again if we don’t get to the heart of the issue.”

In response, Heintze said these matters were outside its purview. The city council hired the firm with explicit goals: create a timeline of relevant facts, review the shooter’s employment history, and review city policies and procedures related to preventing workplace violence and facility security.

The firm’s final report is due in October, and details on its contents are sparse. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Heintze said they remain focused on the task at hand. “No one is going to hijack our investigation,” Heintze told the council. “Our team is not going to be shifted off focus.” 

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