“He was expressionless”: Shooting survivor recounts coming face to face with VB gunman

Virginia Beach Mass Shooting

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Thomas Colson celebrated his 40th birthday Wednesday, a birthday that almost didn’t happen.

Colson works as an Account Clerk II with Public Utilities for the City of Virginia Beach. He was on the 2nd floor of Building II and says he came face to face with his coworker who shot and killed 12 people and injured four others last Friday.

“I heard two loud noises that I thought were due to construction, but shortly after, the business division manager came in, and told us to get off the phones. There is an active shooter, get into my office.” 

20 Public Utility City workers piled into the boss’ office.

“I was trying to get my co-workers into the office.  I was trying to help a co-worker who fell, and didn’t realize it but the suspect was right there beside us … he was right there … he didn’t go in, but the others went in and barricaded themselves in the office.” 

It is not lost on Colson that the shooter could have gone into the office that would be barricaded, then kill 20 people. 

“He could have shot everyone, go out of the barricaded office, and no one would have known. No one would have known anything until police got into the building.” 

Colson says he was running around trying to find people to help, when he first encountered the suspect.

“The first time I crossed paths with the gunman I didn’t realize that was him. I was helping a coworker that had fallen down. Once I got her secured I was going back to try to do another sweep and he was walking down a row of cubicles towards me,” Colson said.

“The gunman came into the office I was in, then he stepped away and came back two separate times, for a total of three times looking into the office I was in, then he left and shortly after that we heard the gunshots up on the third floor.”

Colson said the suspect looked directly at him. When asked what the gunman looked like, he said his eyes looked blank and that he was expressionless.

The shooter was there trying to act like the good guy, but didn’t go into the room. Colson went looking for others to help when he saw the shooter again, but now he also saw the gun, and the magazine, and the silencer, and realized only then who the shooter was and recognized him.  “I was coming back to check the other cubicles and  I realized he was the gunman, and he was walking towards me.  I went around to get cover and secured myself in this office right here,” Colson says pointing at a quickly drawn diagram of the office complex. 

“He was just blank. He lacked emotion … I didn’t say anything. I just stood there in disbelief … he had a gun, but didn’t point it at me.” 

In the beginning Colson thought it was a drill and the shooter was an actor. He looked out the window and could see it was real.  Police told Colson and a colleague to stay where they are, wait for police. “’Police anyone in here?’  We told them we were here, and came out with our hands up.” 

Colson had to step over the body of a colleague leaving Building 2, and he’s haunted every night  when it’s real quiet, “But at night it is the worst.  When things slow down and it replays in your head. When I close my  eyes there are images that I can’t get rid of.” 

Colson doesn’t know why the shooter allowed him to live, “I saw him multiple times, and many days I would say how are you doing. I don’t know if that played any effect into it. I’m still in shock.  It happened a week ago and it seems like five minutes ago.”  

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