12 dead after gunman opens fire on colleagues in Virginia Beach’s 'most devastating day'

A long-time employee opened fire at a local government building in the US state of Virginia, killing 12 people before police fatally shot him, authorities have said.

Saturday, 1st June 2019, 12:57 pm
Updated Saturday, 1st June 2019, 1:00 pm

Four other people were wounded in the shooting, including a police officer whose bulletproof vest saved his life, said Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera.

The shooting happened shortly after 4pm local time (9pm BST) when the employee of the Public Utilities Department entered a building at the Virginia Beach Municipal Centre, and ‘immediately began to indiscriminately fire upon all of the victims,’ Mr Cervera said.

He did not release the suspect's name.

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A police officer walks at the scene where twelve people were killed during a mass shooting at the Virginia Beach city public works building, Friday, May 31, 2019 in Virginia Beach, Va. Picture (L. Todd Spencer/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

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Police entered the building and got out as many employees as they could, then exchanged fire with the suspect, who was killed, the chief said.

Police initially said the gunman shot and killed 11 people, including one who was found inside a vehicle outside the building. Mr Cervera later said one more died on the way to the hospital.

The shooting sent shock waves through Virginia Beach, the state's largest city and a popular holiday spot in south-eastern Virginia.

Virginia Beach Chief of Police James Cervera speaks during a press conference about a shooting that left eleven dead and six injured at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on Friday, May 31, 2019 in Virginia Beach, Va. Picture (Kaitlin McKeown/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

The building where the attack took place is in a suburban area miles away from the high-rise hotels along the beach and the business area.

‘This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,’ mayor Bobby Dyer said.

Virginia governor Ralph Northam said in a statement he was devastated by the ‘unspeakable, senseless violence’ and is offering the state's full support to survivors and relatives of the victims.

‘That they should be taken in this manner is the worst kind of tragedy,’ the governor said during the news conference.

A police officer blocks an entrance to the Virginia Beach Municipal Center off of Princess Anne Road following a shooting Friday, May 31, 2019 in Virginia Beach, Va Picture (Kaitlin McKeown/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed and was monitoring the situation.

Megan Banton, an administrative assistant who works in the building where the shooting happened, said she heard gunshots, called the police and barricaded a door.

‘We tried to do everything we could to keep everybody safe,’ she said.

‘We were all just terrified. It felt like it wasn't real, like we were in a dream. You are just terrified because all you can hear is the gunshots.’

She said she texted her mother, telling her that there was an active gunman in the building and she and others were waiting for police.

Ms Banton works in an office of about 20 people that is part of the public works department.

‘Thank God my baby is OK,’ Ms Banton's mother, Dana Showers, said.

At a nearby school, friends and relatives were reuniting with loved ones who were in the building when the shooting happened.

They included Paul Swain, 50, who said he saw his fiancee from across the car park, clearly in an agitated state.

‘I think she knew some of the people,’ he said.

Outside the school, Cheryl Benn, 65, waited while her husband, David, a traffic engineer with the city who was in the building where the shooting happened, gave a written statement to detectives.

She said her husband initially called her from a barricaded room and said it sounded as if someone had been working with a nail gun.

‘This is unbelievable for Virginia Beach,’ Ms Benn said. ‘By and large, it's a pretty calm and peaceful place to live.’