Gun­man kills 12 in Vir­ginia, then is fa­tally shot by cops

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Sara Gre­gory, Jane Harper and Alissa Skel­ton

VIR­GINIA BEACH, Va. — A long­time city em­ployee shot and killed 12 peo­ple and in­jured four oth­ers af­ter opening fire late Fri­day af­ter­noon in the pub­lic works build­ing, mak­ing it the coun­try’s dead­li­est mass shoot­ing this year.

Po­lice said of­fi­cers killed the man, whom they did not name, af­ter he fired at them.

One of­fi­cer was shot dur­ing the ex­change but was saved by his bul­let­proof vest, Po­lice Chief James Cervera said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence a cou­ple of hours af­ter the in­ci­dent in the city’s Mu­nic­i­pal Cen­ter in the Princess Anne com­mu­nity.

“This is the most dev­as­tat­ing day in the his­tory of Vir­ginia Beach,” Mayor Bobby Dyer said in the news con­fer­ence. “The peo­ple in­volved are our friends, co-work­ers, neigh­bors and col­leagues.”

Fri­day’s ram­page is be­lieved to be the worst mass killing in Vir­ginia Beach’s his­tory. Prior to this week, a shoot­ing on June 30, 1994, at the Witch­duck Inn held that dis­tinc­tion: Four peo­ple — the busi­ness owner, two em­ploy­ees and a pa­tron — were shot to death at the restau­rant. It also came on the heels of a shoot­ing in Ch­e­sa­peake’s Holly Cove com­mu­nity over Me­mo­rial Day week­end that left one dead and nine oth­ers in­jured.

In the U.S., it is the dead­li­est at­tack since the Novem­ber shoot­ing at Bor­der­line Bar & Grill in Cal­i­for­nia, in which 12 peo­ple were killed.

The gun­fire in Vir­ginia Beach be­gan shortly af­ter 4 p.m. as work­ers were pre­par­ing to leave for the week­end. The shoot­ing oc­curred in build­ing 2, next to City Hall near the in­ter­sec­tion of Nimmo Park­way and Princess Anne Boule­vard. The plan­ning, pub­lic util­i­ties, pub­lic works de­part­ments and oth­ers are lo­cated there. The three-story brick build­ing on Court­house Drive is one of 30 Colo­nial-style struc­tures at the mu­nic­i­pal cam­pus and houses around 400 work­ers.

Many of the em­ploy­ees work out of small of­fice spa­ces along long hall­ways. The doors are typ­i­cally un­locked and open to the pub­lic.

The shooter on Fri­day was a cur­rent em­ployee of the pub­lic util­i­ties de­part­ment, Cervera said.

Me­gan Ban­ton, an ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant in the pub­lic util­i­ties of­fice where the man worked, said her su­per­vi­sor heard a noise then shouted for ev­ery­one to get down.

The su­per­vi­sor then pulled Ban­ton and oth­ers into her of­fice and shoved a desk against the door while Ban­ton called 911.

“It felt like for­ever,” Ban­ton said.

Zand Bakhtiari was one of only five peo­ple left in the geo­graphic in­for­ma­tion ser­vices de­part­ment — lo­cated on the first floor of the build­ing — at the end of the day Fri­day when his su­per­vi­sor, who had left the of­fice, texted to say there was an ac­tive shooter and to shel­ter in place.

Bakhtiari wasn’t ner­vous un­til he heard the gun­shots — lots of them, one round in quick suc­ces­sion. He said it sounded like an au­to­matic weapon.

“It was re­peated, rapid gun­fire,” he said. It sounded like it was com­ing from above or be­low him on the sec­ond floor or the base­ment, he said.

Af­ter a few min­utes — Bakhtiari doesn’t know how much time passed — the bul­lets stopped, but the fire alarm had been set off. And he could smell the gun­pow­der.

He as­sumed it was over when he heard the fire alarm, but he and his co-work­ers didn’t know whether to evac­u­ate or stay put, so they all came out of their in­di­vid­ual of­fices and hud­dled to­gether.

Af­ter about 10 min­utes, of­fi­cers and SWAT team mem­bers came in, told them to duck down and keep their hands up as they es­corted em­ploy­ees out and checked ev­ery room.

Arthur Fel­ton, an 18-year em­ployee in the plan­ning de­part­ment, was also in­side when the shoot­ing started. He evac­u­ated the build­ing af­ter a co-worker heard gun­shots.

“I never thought this would hap­pen in my build­ing,” Fel­ton said. “The peo­ple who were shot — I’m sure I know most of them.”

Em­ploy­ees’ fam­ily mem­bers were be­ing sent to Princess Anne Mid­dle School to re­unite with loved ones.

Paul Swain’s fi­ancee sent him a text mes­sage at 4:17 p.m. that said, “They are shoot­ing on my floor.” He said he drove to the Mu­nic­i­pal Cen­ter so fast he was pulled over for speed­ing.

The of­fi­cer let him go when he told him why he was driving fast.

Swain made it to the area but was di­rected to re­unite with his fi­ancee at Princess Anne Mid­dle School.

“My heart is just pound­ing,” he said as he waited to see her.

Po­lice did not al­low me­dia on the school’s prop­erty. When he walked into the school, he said, he was greeted by staff mem­bers who had a check­list of names. Peo­ple were wait­ing for their fam­i­lies in the cafe­te­ria, he said.

Amy Woody was try­ing to find her neigh­bor of 20 years who didn’t come home from her job at the city. She said her neigh­bor al­ways re­turns home around 4 p.m. but wasn’t an­swer­ing her text mes­sages or phone calls. Woody ar­rived at the school shortly af­ter 8:30 p.m. with her two dogs.

“I just want to make sure she is OK,” she said. “It’s def­i­nitely a very solemn feel­ing right now. It’s hard.”

Ch­eryl Benn rushed to the school af­ter get­ting a fran­tic call from her hus­band, David, who is a traf­fic en­gi­neer and works in the build­ing. At first all she could hear when he called was sirens.

She said her hus­band bar­ri­caded him­self in a room away from the shooter and held the door shut un­til po­lice told him it was safe to leave.

“He was def­i­nitely a lit­tle freaked out,” Benn said.

While her hus­band gave de­tec­tives a state­ment, Benn waited out­side the school with her dog.

“Some of those peo­ple could be his co-work­ers,” she said.

KAITLIN MCK­E­OWN/VIRGINIAN PI­LOT

Vir­ginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer looks on as City Coun­cil­man Aaron Rouse, right, com­forts Chief of Po­lice James Cervera following a press con­fer­ence about a shoot­ing that left 13 dead and six in­jured at the Vir­ginia Beach Mu­nic­i­pal Cen­ter on Fri­day.

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