Authorities said an old city employee opened fire at a town hall in Virginia Beach, killing 12 people on three floors and prompting terrified co-workers to take cover before police shot and killed him after a “long gun battle.”
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 destructive 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 randomly at all the victims.” The authorities have not revealed the suspect’s name, instead choosing to focus on the victims during a press conference.
The President said that the police entered the building, took out as many employees as possible, and then exchanged fire with the suspect, who was armed with a .45 caliber pistol.
Police initially said that the gunman shot and killed 11 people, including one who was found in a car outside the municipality building. 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 devastated by “unspeakable and senseless violence”, and provides 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 the 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 of her colleagues 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. We felt it was not real, as if we were dreaming. You are only terrified because all you can hear is gunshots.”
She texted her mother telling 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.
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 occurred, gave a written statement to investigators.
She said her husband first called her from a bunker and said it looked as if 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.”