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Family and friends grieve for the 12 lives lost in Virginia Beach shooting

VIRGINIA BEACH — Chris Rapp was close to driving home to Powhatan.

Rapp was finishing his workweek as an engineer in the Virginia Beach Department of Public Works, but he’d never make it outside the building.

Around 4 p.m. Friday, police said an engineer in a different department walked in and killed Rapp and 11 others.

Rapp, a Virginia Beach native, was the shortest-tenured city employee killed in Friday’s massacre. He had worked for Virginia’s largest city for only 11 months after spending part of his career in Stafford County and a decade in Powhatan County.

“He was kind through and through,” said Carolyn Bishop, the former Powhatan County administrator who hired Rapp as director of public works. “He was always there for everybody.”

She added: “Powhatan is heartbroken. This whole thing is unbelievable.”

The motive for Friday’s mass shooting remains unclear. Police said Saturday that DeWayne Craddock, 40, who was an engineer with the city’s Department of Public Utilities, entered a building in the city’s government complex and shot people at random.

Eleven city employees, including Rapp, were killed in the shooting. Another, a contractor looking to get a city permit, was also killed. Six worked in the same department as Craddock, though authorities have declined to say if anyone was specifically targeted. Craddock was shot and killed in a gunbattle with police.

On Saturday, friends and family members clung to memories as they began to process their loss.

Tara Welch Gallagher, an engineer in the Department of Public Works, was dedicated to her career and family, especially her young son, her next-door neighbor recalled in an interview Saturday.

Barbara Airing last spoke to Gallagher a week ago as the boy played outside.

“I was just following him around and talking; he was just pointing at everything,” she said.

Airing didn’t piece together what had happened until a neighbor called Saturday morning. As authorities were processing the crime scene Friday, Airing was at TJ Maxx buying books for the boy with pictures of trucks, tractors and police cars.

“I just want to squeeze him. I can’t believe this,” she said.

LaQuita Brown, a right-of-way agent in the Department of Public Works from Chesapeake who’d worked for the city for more than four years, was described in social media posts as a woman of God who lived her faith.

“She was one of those people who just lit up a room. Every room. ... And now that light is gone, and my heart can’t stop hurting,” wrote Sinda R. Price, who referred to Brown as “big sis.”

Contractor Herbert “Bert” Snelling was courageous and kind, friends said on a fundraising page established to support his widow, Sonja.

A co-worker said Michelle “Missy” Langer was an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan who was friendly and gregarious.

Kimberly Millering told The Washington Post that she and Langer, a 60-year-old administrative assistant with Public Utilities for 12 years who lived in Virginia Beach, were at work when the gunfire began. After a SWAT team evacuated Millering from Building 2, her fears turned to Langer, her friend of eight years. Millering, a geographic information analyst, said she tried calling Langer, but no one answered.

“I will miss her smile and her hugs. That’s the hardest thing,” she said, her voice shaking. “I don’t know how I can go into that building and know that’s where she died.”

Ervin Cox Jr. told The New York Times that he and his brother, Ryan Keith Cox, had been raised by a minister and that Keith, as family members called him, had been preparing to preach his first sermon. Cox, 50, had been an account clerk for the city for a dozen years.

“He was just that caring, loving person that just cared about everybody and wanted to help everybody. He was like that at home and at church,” Ervin Cox said. “This is hard. It hurts. It hurts deep.”

Mary Louise Gayle had worked for the city for decades. She had been looking forward to receiving a free day at a spa as a reward for her work in the right-of-way section of the Public Utilities division, friends and neighbors told The New York Times.

“She was a super sweet lady; she always had this big smile,” her next-door neighbor John Cushman, 33, a firefighter for the nearby city of Portsmouth, told the paper. “She would always be out there in the yard, working on something and talking to my daughters.”

Alexander Mikhail Gusev came to the U.S. from Belarus in 2003 and earned a civil engineering degree from Old Dominion University, according to The Virginian-Pilot. Gusev, who had worked for the city for nine years as a right-of-way agent, had wanted to get married and have kids and had talked of moving out of his town house in Virginia Beach to a neighborhood with better schools, a friend told the paper.

Richard H. Nettleton worked 28 years as an engineer in the Department of Public Utilities and was remembered as a level-headed leader. A Boston Red Sox fan who sometimes played golf, according to the Pilot, Nettleton lived in Norfolk with his wife, Sarah.

Joshua O. Hardy was 52 and didn’t have children of his own, but was close to his six nieces and nephews, family members told The Washington Post. He was one of six siblings, including a twin sister, who grew up in Norfolk. He’d been an engineering technician with the city for more than 4 years.

Katherine A. Nixon of Virginia Beach, who spent a decade with the city as an engineer, came from a family of engineers, according to the Post. Her father, grandfather and two uncles were engineers. Nixon was married and had three children.

“I still remember teaching her how to quilt when she was a teenager,” her grandmother, Claudia Blodget told the paper.

And Robert “Bobby” Williams of Chesapeake was the longest-serving city employee killed in Friday’s shooting. A special projects coordinator who had worked for the city for 41 years, Williams had planned to retire later this year to spend more time with his family, co-worker Brent Werlein wrote on Facebook.

“They leave a void we will never be able to fill,” said City Manager Dave Hansen. “Today, we all grieve.”

Rapp, of Powhatan, had been elated to return to his hometown for work, recalled Bishop, the former Powhatan County administrator.

Rapp was also able to continue his love of Scottish music in Virginia Beach.

He played the bagpipes with the Greater Richmond Pipes & Drums, a competition and performance bagpipe and drum band. When he started in Virginia Beach, he got connected with the Tidewater Pipes & Drums group and picked up where he left off in Richmond, playing with the Tidewater band at the Central Virginia Celtic Festival and Highland Games last October.

He marched with the band as recently as St. Patrick’s Day, said band manager Jim Roberts.

“Chris was reserved but very friendly, quietly engaging members one-on-one after our weekly practices,” Roberts said Saturday. “Even though we didn’t have time to get to know him better, we shared a love for music that created an immediate bond.

“More importantly, he showed up and worked hard, which is all you can ask for in a group of amateur musicians.”

Karin Carmack, a member of the Powhatan Planning Commission, said she saw similar qualities while working with Rapp in planning the county’s infrastructure.

Carmack said Saturday that she was shaken by Rapp’s death: “You hear about these things, but seldom do you ever expect to know someone in a mass shooting.”

Details for Rapp’s funeral were not immediately known Saturday. Whenever it is, Roberts said, the Tidewater band hopes to play at his service.

The Virginia Beach shooting is the deadliest in the U.S. so far this year and the deadliest in Virginia since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, which killed 33 people.

Gov. Ralph Northam on Saturday ordered the Virginia flag to be flown at half-staff until sunset June 8 in honor of the victims.

“These are 12 individuals who came to work in the city of Virginia Beach thinking they’d go home,” Northam said. “Now, there’s a void in their families.”

PHOTOS: Victims of Virginia Beach mass shooting

NAACP leaders in NOVA, Hampton Roads, pressure Northam to deliver on reconciliation promises

Four months after a racist photo plunged Gov. Ralph Northam and state Democrats into chaos, the silence that has befallen elected leaders on the left has J.D. Spain troubled.

Insofar as they’re willing to comment, Democratic leaders and members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus say they’re ready to partner with Northam to address systemic racism in the state in education, health care and criminal justice.

With few answers about the origins of the photo on Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page, some Democrats point to polls showing a majority of Virginians want the governor to remain in office. Calls for his resignation remain up in the air, undisturbed.

But Spain, president of the Arlington County NAACP, is part of a contingent of NAACP leaders in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads who want to see Northam further engage their communities and more overtly address systemic racism in the state. A smaller subset is threatening protests.

“Here we are in May, and the governor has spoken with a few people in the NAACP, elected leaders, trying to do this outreach effort, saying ‘Hey, I’m really a good person,’ ” Spain said. “But he lied to the public, and has declined to speak honestly and candidly about his past with the community.”

The groups represent some of the last bastions of vocal criticism toward Northam in a state that just a few months ago saw the governor’s administration pushed to the brink by widespread calls for his resignation.

Northam’s trip to NSU

Northam met with some of those leaders at a private event Friday at Norfolk State University that included local NAACP officers and other influential African American figures from the surrounding cities, according to three people who were invited.

Karen Pruden, president of the Virginia Beach NAACP, said she was happy to see Northam “out and about,” speaking with African American leaders, and “continuing to do the business of the governor’s office.”

Pruden said Northam engaged the room of about 20 or so leaders in conversations about maternal mortality among black women, rights restoration for felons and education, among other issues.

Two other local NAACP leaders had different takeaways.

“He did not come today with substantive policy initiatives; he did not,” said James Boyd, the president of the Portsmouth NAACP. He said Northam discussed issues relevant to black communities but did not pitch any specific plans. Boyd said he disliked what he saw as an opportunity for Northam to take photos with local black leaders.

“It was just a PR campaign,” he said.

Boyd, who interrupted a May 22 news conference at Eastern Virginia Medical School to criticize Northam and a McGuireWoods investigation into the yearbook photo, said he is dissatisfied with what he has seen from Northam since the photo surfaced. He said he asked Northam to resign during Friday’s gathering.

Joe Dillard, president of the Norfolk NAACP, said that except for Boyd, the gathering was not a protest of Northam. He said that like other African American leaders, he hopes Northam can deliver on his equity promises — though he hasn’t seen much yet.

“He’s behaving as any other Democrat who was governor, who promised African Americans ‘blah blah,’ ” Dillard said after the event. “I haven’t seen Northam do anything that says he’s really trying to reconcile the commonwealth. I can’t personally say I’ve seen that.”

Dillard added that he hopes the upcoming two-year state budget that Northam will propose in December will show a purposeful approach to equity.

Northam’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the event in Norfolk, which was not included in the governor’s public schedule.

Call for Northam apology

The photo in question depicts one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. It is one of four photos on Northam’s page in the 1984 EVMS yearbook. An investigation into the photo’s origins by McGuireWoods was inconclusive; investigators did reveal that leaders at the school knew about the photo’s existence going back to at least 2013.

In Northern Virginia, local NAACP leaders say that lacking concrete evidence Northam is not in the photo, the governor should approach members of the community in a setting in which he would be vulnerable, ready with an apology.

Phillip Thompson, a member of the executive board of the Virginia NAACP and former Loudoun County branch president, said he would like to see Northam out in public, at a historically black college or university, for a public event to “explain his conduct, his background.”

Spain, of the Arlington NAACP, said, “He hasn’t been up here to talk to us or talk to the people about what went on,” adding that no one in the administration has reached out to him, even as “Arlington is one of the most diverse districts in the commonwealth.”

Kofi Annan, president of the Fairfax County NAACP and a vocal Northam critic, said Northam needs to “explain himself and apologize, let us know how he’s grown from this. Anything else is disingenuous and just a stall tactic.”

A protest Annan organized in April outside of a legislative fundraising event in Fairfax, pitched as Northam’s return to the political circuit, led to Northam’s appearance being canceled. (The governor’s staff cited security concerns.)

“There are preliminary talks about protesting him at other venues, particularly if he shows up at 400-year anniversary events,” Annan said, referring to the anniversary of the arrival of the first African people to U.S. territory at Point Comfort, Va.

The arrivals are sometimes referred to as the beginning of slavery in the United States.

“We don’t think he has earned the right to show up at these types of events given his behavior that he has yet to explain,” Annan said.

Annan is also circulating a petition asking candidates for local office to reject funding from Northam’s PAC and deny him invitations to campaign events. So far, 17 candidates have signed the pledge, including Spain, who is challenging Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, in a June 11 Democratic primary.

Thompson said in an earlier interview: “If [Northam] won’t take care of this, the pressure is going to ratchet up.”

Annan and Thompson said they have engaged Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, and Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun, in conversations about what Northam might do to bring reconciliation.

In a telephone interview, Favola acknowledged there are some in her district who are “still hurting” and “who want an explanation, some with a desire for moving forward.”

“There’s a great need for a personal touch from the governor,” Favola said. “There is no substitute for a hands-on approach from the governor himself, to air their anger and hurt directly with the governor. Maybe they can talk about next steps after that.”

Favola added that the broader conversation about healing “is going to be multiracial, not just African American.”

“I’m hearing it should involve other minorities, Caucasians … a roundtable that is diverse but led by our African American brothers and sisters. My forefathers faced discrimination; we’ve all seen that to a lesser or greater degree,” Favola said.

Bell declined a request for comment.

Differences in approach

The concerns highlighted by local NAACP leaders who spoke to the Richmond Times-Dispatch show a rift between community activists and the members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and other elected Democrats, who say they would rather focus on policy wins.

Those calculations are happening in a critical election year for Democrats, who in November could take control of the legislature, cementing their control of state government. Republicans hold two-seat edges in the state House and in the Senate.

“He has decided that staying in office is the better course of action to effect change and I have accepted that,” Favola said. “I’m hopeful that the governor can make some transformational changes, and I want to be part of the progress moving forward.”

Chairman of the black caucus Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, declined to comment for this story, but said last month that he is less concerned about the origins of the photo than with progress on policy issues impacting African Americans in the state.

Annan, of the Fairfax NAACP, disagrees with the approach, saying that accountability for the pain of the photo and policy progress can happen at once.

“I have spoken to people in the black caucus who just feel like this isn’t as important as dealing with policy, but I feel like we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Annan said. “I feel like we need to not brush this under the rug, or act like it didn’t happen, just because the governor decided to stay in office.”

Spain agreed, saying he is troubled by the sudden silence on the issue by Democrats who once called for Northam to resign.

“What I see in the black caucus is indecisive leadership and failure to have direction,” Spain said. “They need to find their confidence because the people are watching.”

As for the upcoming elections, he said that silence on the issue “says a lot about how valued the African American vote is.”

For others, like Boyd of the Portsmouth NAACP, there is little Northam could do to fully regain his trust after the events that have transpired.

“Right now, there is no moral way that he can restore being a leader in the state,” Boyd said. “There’s a political way to do it, and he’s doing it.”

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breaking featured
'The day we prepared for but never wanted to see': Virginia Beach mourns as victims, shooter named in massacre

VIRGINIA BEACH — Cathy Whitley stood beneath the Kelly’s Tavern awning as the Lifehouse Virginia Beach church band began to play. By the second song, she was on her knees with her arms and head lifted up to the rain.

She said her heart was broken by the deaths of 12 people here Friday afternoon, when police say an engineer in the city’s Department of Public Utilities walked into Building No. 2 of the local government complex just before the workday ended and opened fire.

“My heart truly goes out to the people who lost their lives,” Whitley, a retired teacher, said during a vigil organized to heal a city reeling from the country’s largest mass shooting so far this year.

The shooter, identified Saturday as DeWayne Craddock, 40, had worked for the city for 15 years, city officials said. He was armed with two legally purchased .45-caliber handguns, a silencer and a security badge that granted him access to restricted parts of the building.

He died exchanging fire with police, in the deadliest shooting in the state since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. The carnage left four other people in the hospital — three in critical condition — as of Saturday afternoon.

“We’ve heard so many stories of it happening elsewhere. Like many cities, we didn’t think it would happen here,” said Arick Goodman, a Virginia Beach resident. “Unfortunately, it did.”

Whitley and Goodman were among nearly 200 people who gathered in a shopping center to pray about an hour after authorities identified the shooter. Attendees cried, hugged, held hands and sang “Amazing Grace” in front of a Regal Cinemas movie theater.

“It’s a day none of us ever thought we’d live,” said Lifehouse Virginia Beach pastor Brandon Shank. “People say VB strong, but we know what that means.”

The phrase became a social media rallying cry for a community left reeling after what Mayor Bobby Dyer described Friday night as “Virginia Beach’s darkest hour.” The city’s official remembrance service is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Rock Church.

A training session for the Virginia Beach community on how to deal with active threats like Friday’s shooting had been scheduled for Saturday.

It was postponed. Instead, city residents found community at vigils hosted by local churches.

“This city won’t be remembered for what happened yesterday,” Lifehouse associate pastor Matt Oliver said Saturday before reading the name of each victim. “It will be remembered for what happens today.”

Gov. Ralph Northam, along with other state and local elected officials, made a surprise appearance at the morning vigil and encouraged attendees to support one another. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax attended a vigil at Bridge Church.

Northam also visited Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital on Saturday to meet with the medical teams who operated on the injured victims, some of whom he also visited.

“It’s the day we prepared for but never wanted to see,” Sentara CEO Howard P. Kern said in a statement.

Authorities said Craddock lived alone in Virginia Beach, but they declined to say Saturday whether they knew his motive or whether he’d had any recent troubles at work.

Details on his motive remain vague as police continue to investigate and interview his surviving co-workers.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Craddock only recently developed behavioral problems in the office, acting “strangely” while also getting into physical “scuffles” with other city employees.

A 1996 Daily Press article said Craddock served in the Army National Guard and was a graduate of Denbigh High School in Newport News. He first obtained an engineering license in 2008, according to state records.

Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera said the municipal building where the killings occurred resembled a war zone after a “long gunbattle” that ended with police shooting Craddock. A police officer — one of four who immediately responded to the shooting from police headquarters just a few buildings away — was shot but survived thanks to a bulletproof vest, police said.

Members of the public began to drop off flowers Saturday afternoon for an unofficial memorial outside police headquarters.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Saturday that two weapons were used in the attack. Both were .45-caliber pistols and were purchased legally in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Two other guns were found at Craddock’s home, Cervera said.

Cervera said the suspect’s name just once on Saturday, and vowed to never utter it publicly again.

“He will be forever referred to as the suspect because our focus now is the dignity and respect to the victims in this case and to their families,” Cervera said.

Crime scene tape still surrounded the building Saturday as police — now led by the FBI — collect evidence inside and outside. About 40 FBI agents are here overseeing evidence collection.

Some people attending the vigils said they didn’t know any of the victims but wanted to show up for their community. For others, though, the shooting hit close to home.

Mariana Rocha, a Norfolk native, attended church with Bert Snelling, a contractor who was trying to get a permit filled and was shot in the parking lot. He was the lone victim not employed by the city.

“He was the kindest person,” she said. “You never think it’s going to happen to someone like that.”

President Donald Trump ordered U.S. flags be flown at half-staff until sunset on Tuesday. The president said on Twitter that he’d spoken with Northam, who ordered Virginia flags to half-staff through June 8, and Virginia Beach leaders.

“The Federal Government is there, and will be, for whatever they may need,” Trump said. “God bless the families and all!”

Virginia Beach leaders are still figuring out how it will operate government come Monday. The city will be without a dozen of its workers — employees who helped the government run. The building remains a crime scene.

Saturday was for mourning, residents said, but the dawn would break.

Said Archie Callahan, the lead pastor at Bridge Church, which hosted a vigil Saturday night: “This dark cloud that’s over this city right now, it will not remain.”