Authorities said an old city employee opened fire on a town hall in Virginia Beach, killing 12 people and prompting frightened co-workers to take cover before police shot and killed him.
Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera said four other people were wounded in the shooting, including a police officer whose bulletproof vest saved his life. Vividly shaken city mayor Bobby Dyer described it as “the most devastating day in Virginia Beach history”.
The shooting occurred shortly after 4 pm. Cervera said that when a veteran employee of the Public Utilities Department entered a building in the town’s municipal center and “immediately began firing indiscriminately at all the victims.” The name of the suspect was not revealed.
The official said that the police entered the building, exited as many employees as possible, and then exchanged fire with the suspect, who was killed.
Police initially said the gunman shot and killed 11 people. Cervera later said that another person died on the way to the hospital.
The shooting triggered shock waves across Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city and a popular vacation site in southeast Virginia. The building where the attack took place is in the suburban complex, miles from the high-rise hotels along the beach and downtown business district.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said in a statement that he was stunned by the “unspeakable and senseless violence” and provided full state support to survivors and relatives of victims.
“Dealing with them in this way is the worst kind of tragedy,” the governor said during a press conference.
The White House said President Donald Trump has been briefed and is monitoring the situation.
Megan Panton, an administrative assistant who works in the building where the shooting happened, said she heard gunshots, called 911 and barricaded herself and about 20 co-workers inside an office, and pushed a desk across from the door.
“We tried to do everything in our power to keep everyone safe,” she said. “We were all terrified. I felt it wasn’t real, as if we were in a dream. You’re just terrified because all you can hear are bullets.”
She texted her mother informing her that there was an active shooter in the building and that she and others were waiting for the police.
“Thank God, my child is fine,” Bantone’s mother, Dana Shower, said.
Five of the wounded are being treated at Centara Virginia Beach General Hospital, and a sixth is being transferred to the Trauma Center at Centara Norfolk General Hospital, on Twitter, Centara Healthcare.
At a nearby middle school, friends and relatives were meeting loved ones who were in the building when the shooting happened. Among them was Paul Swain, 50, who said he saw his fiancée from the other side of the parking lot and was clearly on the rampage.
“I think she knows some people,” he said.
Outside the school, Sherrill Benn, 65, waited while her husband David, a city traffic engineer who was in the building where the shooting took place, gave a written statement to investigators.
She said her husband first called her from a bunker and said it looked like someone was working with a nail gun. Then he saw the bodies.
“It’s unbelievable for Virginia Beach,” said Sherrill Benn. “Overall, it is a very quiet and peaceful place to live