VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Leaders of the state commission formed to investigate Virginia Beach’s 2019 mass shooting hope to address any “gaps” that may be identified in other probes into the tragedy when they issue their final report sometime next year.
The group had its first in-person meeting on Thursday at the Virginia Beach Law Enforcement Training Academy, nearly a year and a half after the governor signed off on the commission’s creation.
For the majority of the meeting, the commission heard or discussed input from victims and victims’ family members who say they still have unanswered questions.
It was a group of family members that pushed two Virginia Beach state delegates to get the state investigation funded. They expressed doubt about the thoroughness of the independent investigation conducted by Hillard Heintze and the report by the Virginia Beach Police Department.
It was on May 31, 2019 that public utilities engineer DeWayne Craddock, 40, shot and killed 12 people and seriously hurt four others at Building 2 at the city’s Municipal Center before being killed himself in a gun battle with police.
Both the police and investigators with Hillard Heintze said they could come to no conclusive motive. A later report-out from the FBI found Craddock was motivated by long-term “perceived workplace grievances” and “significant mental health stressors” before carrying out the attack.
Wording included in the state budget charges the state commission to also investigate the underlying motive for the shooting by looking into the gunman’s personal background and entire prior employment history with the city, including his interactions with coworkers and supervisors. The final report should “determine how the gunman was able to carry out his actions,” identify any obstacles first responders faced and identify and examine the security in place immediately prior to the shooting.
Finally, the group is tasked with looking at post-shooting communications between police detectives and the families of the victims and put forward recommendations on how to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
“It’s a large task for volunteers,” Butch Bracknell, vice-chair of the commission, said.
The 21-member commission was appointed mostly by the governor, with 10 appointees coming from the General Assembly.
While some members have former affiliations with the city, others live outside the region.
Bracknell lives in Norfolk but has served on several Virginia Beach commissions before. As a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, he thought his expertise could be beneficial.
“We’re trying to issue a report that we believe will be perceived to have been conducted with integrity, and to be as comprehensive of a report as we can possibly generate,” Bracknell said.
Nearly half a dozen speakers addressed the commission during the meeting Thursday. Most have spoken out before, often repeating unsubstantiated or disproven claims about what happened.
However, the commission also accepted an anonymous letter written by a group calling themselves the “5/31 Virginia Beach Building 2 Stronger Together Peer Group.”
10 On Your Side was able to independently confirm the group is made up of employees of the city who were inside Building 2 the day of the shooting and worked for the most affected departments.
The letter pleaded the commission look into a toxic culture within the city staff that may have led to the shooting. Hillard Heintze previously found a widespread toxic culture did not exist.
The letter also called into question the police timeline for the shooting and the thoroughness of investigations.
“We hope clarification will unveil the long-term needs of our fellow City workers, help with determination of the motive, and possibly show the need for a state-funded resiliency center in the Virginia Beach area,” the letter reads.
“I believe our task is to take the work that’s already been done, identify any gaps, synthesize it, figure out where there may be some type of conflicts between the reports,” Bracknell said following the meeting. “If we find a big gap that no one has addressed, then I believe we have the mandate to address that.”
However, Bracknell cautions people to keep their expectations realistic.
“No report is going to satisfy everyone. It just doesn’t happen,” Bracknell said.
The commission’s first report on their progress is due to the General Assembly by Nov. 1.