Virginia shooting rampage strikes at heart of city
Eleven of them were civil servants, the kind of people who worked on construction projects and water quality and right-ofway issues. Another was a local contractor who had come by for a permit.
Between them, they had more than 150 years of experience helping to make Virginia’s largest city work – the unelected, behind-the-scenes figures who drew up plans, issued permits and performed the vital jobs that help keep a community intact. And on Friday, their lives ended with a man’s barrage of bullets in a threefloor surge of terror that once again pushed the nation’s death toll from mass shootings higher.
“Today, we all grieve,” said David L. Hansen, the Virginia Beach city manager. “I have worked with most of them for many years. We want you to know who they were, so in the days and weeks to come, you will learn what they meant to all of us.”
He then began a grim, halting roll call of the dead. He started with LaQuita Brown, and he ended with Herbert Snelling. It lasted nearly three minutes.
Only after the last name was read did Hansen pause and ask the police chief to talk about “that 13th person,” the 15-year city employee who opened fire in Building No. 2. Chief James A. Cervera identified the dead suspect, DeWayne Antonio Craddock, and said it would be “the only time we will announce his name.”
So as state troopers stood guard and FBI agents in cargo pants collected evidence at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on Saturday, the city was left to take stock of those it had so suddenly lost.
There was Alexander Mikhail Gusev, an immigrant from Belarus who had worked as a right of way agent and had been with the city for more than nine years. Before the gunfire, he had planned to spend Friday evening with his twin brother, repairing a property in nearby Portsmouth.
“It was getting late, so I called him and, you know, there was no answer,” said Aliaksei Huseu, standing in the doorway of his brother’s rowhouse Saturday morning. “He was a hard worker, but he liked fun. He would act a little bit like the fool just to make everybody smile. Everybody’s crying. I’m not. I have a lot of thoughts in my head, but I’m not crying. I don’t know why.”
Mary Louise Gayle had worked for the city for more than 24 years and reached a sweet spot in her life, friends and neighbors said. She had been looking forward to receiving a free day at a spa, a reward for her work in the right-of-way section of the public utilities division.
Gayle, a single mother in her 60s who had raised a son and daughter on her own, was known in the neighborhood for spending hours working in the yard of her meticulously maintained ranch house a few miles from work. She had recently pulled down a dying pine tree, and replaced it with a pair of azalea bushes – which were starting to flower in front of her empty house on Saturday.
“She was a super sweet lady; she always had this big smile,” said her nextdoor neighbor John Cushman, 33, a firefighter in Portsmouth. “She would always be out there in the yard, working on something and talking to my daughters.”
Ryan Keith Cox had lately been dividing his time between his work as an account clerk and his preparations for his first sermon.
Recently he felt “the Lord called him to preach,” his brother said, and wanted to follow his father, who has been a pastor for 56 years. “He felt that it was time,” said Ervin Cox Jr., Cox’s older brother.
“This is hard. It hurts, it hurts deep,” Ervin Cox said Saturday.
And there was Brown, a Jehovah’s Witness who was a native of this coastal shipbuilding region. She was already fluent in French, and was learning Japanese and sign language so she could spread her faith.
“That’s my heart, that’s my first born,” her father, Dwight G. Brown Sr., said as he began to cry. “I have two kids; now I only have a son. This is devastating.”
The city identified each of the other victims: Tara Welch Gallagher, an engineer; Katherine A. Nixon, an engineer who spent more than a decade working for Virginia Beach; Richard H. Nettleton, a 28-year veteran of city government who served alongside Hansen in the Army; Christopher Kelly Rapp, who joined the municipal government less than a year ago; Joshua O. Hardy, an engineering technician; Michelle Langer, known as Missy, who was an administrative assistant; Robert Williams, a Public Utilities Department employee for 41 years; and Snelling, a contractor.
At least three more people were listed in critical condition at local hospitals Saturday.
There was no immediate indication that the gunman targeted specific people, many of whom he had worked alongside. City officials would not discuss the suspect or his work history, but they said that he was an employee at the time of the attack, that he had held a security access card and that he had been “authorized” to be where he was.
Two handguns found on the suspect were purchased legally in 2016 and 2018, Cervera said. Federal officials said that two other weapons were found during a search of the gunman’s apartment; at least one had been purchased legally.
Cervera refused to discuss a possible motive for the attack, which he said left “a horrific crime scene” and provoked “a long-term, large gunfight” with police officers who responded to 911 calls.
Anthony Moore, center, and his fiancée Kaitlyn Mitchell comfort each other Saturday during the prayer vigil following a shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va.