Ad for Va. State Senate race focuses on Virginia Beach mass shooting

Virginia Beach Mass Shooting

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A new commercial on the air is making the May 31 shooting at Building 2 in Virginia Beach the center of a political campaign.

The ad is for the 8th District State Senate race in Virginia Beach, and centers around controversy and gun control. It profiles Building 2 survivor Karen Havekost.  

She is a longtime friend of Democratic challenger Missy Cotter Smasal, who is running against State Senator Bill DeSteph. Havekost contributed $817 to the campaign, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

The ad begins: “May 31 started out like any other day. I walked out of the bathroom. I saw a co-worker and he looked at me and said ‘go.’ I was lucky. Not everyone was. I asked Senator Bill DeSteph to do something, so this doesn’t happen again, and Senator Bill DeSteph did not meet with us,” Havekost says in the ad.

10 On Your Side called Havekost for comment, but she did not return our call.

The truth is Havekost emailed DeSteph her concerns about gun control in an email dated June 9, before the special session on guns in July.  

What the commercial does not say is that on June 14, DeSteph emailed back to Havekost, “We would be happy to discuss this in person, should you wish  to visit our office … Please feel free to call … to schedule a meeting. If there is anything we can do to assist you during this difficult time, please don’t hesitate to ask.”  

Here’s the full copy of the letter, written by DeSteph’s Chief of Staff, Jill Eyler:

Ms. Havekost,
Many thanks for your email regarding the shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.  The expressed opinions of our constituents are extremely important to us, and I will be sure to convey your thoughts to Senator DeSteph.  As a survivor of this tragedy, I can only imagine how heartbreaking this is for you. 
As we approach the upcoming Special Session, the Senator will be reviewing all the gun laws on the books today.  He’ll be looking at which laws were broken during this terrible incident; how enforceable these laws are; and whether there are any laws that would have prevented this tragedy from occurring.  He will also be looking into how mental health resources are administered in the Commonwealth and how that factors into an event such as this.
We would be happy to discuss this in person, should you wish to visit us in our Virginia Beach office.  Please feel free to call us at 757.321.8180 to schedule a meeting.  If there is anything we can do to assist you during this difficult time, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Again, thank you for taking the time to contact our office.


Jill Eyler
Chief of Staff
Senator Bill DeSteph

Havekost never called, nor went to see DeSteph.  

“This is a tragedy,” DeSteph said. “It should never be politicized. These are the people we go to church with, and these are our neighbors. You should never politicize this.”

DeSteph is not alone. Jason Nixon’s wife Kate was killed in Building 2.  

“When I saw the commercial, I couldn’t sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night with nightmares … I woke up in the morning and threw up in the toilet, that’s how upset I was,” Nixon said.

The commercial continues “he (DeSteph) blocked the Senate from even voting on gun safety laws. He has a chance to make a difference, but he refused to do it.”  

The fact is the full Senate and House of Delegates could never vote to approve the bills without analysis on how much the new laws would cost.

It should also be noted several bills were submitted 45 minutes before legislators went on the floor of the House and Senate. Republicans adjourned as a group, not by a single senator, after only 90 minutes, sending scores of bills for further study. That angered gun control advocates.  

DeSteph says, “Those bills were sent to the Crime Commission for further study by the subject matter experts. The Kaine Administration did the same thing after the Virginia Tech shooting.”

All the legislative bills will be discussed on November 18 and November 19.

The bills to be considered include making municipal centers gun free zones, banning suppressors and high capacity magazines, which were concerns in Havekost’s email to DeSteph.  

Missy Cotter Smasal says Havekost is a friend, and they mutually agreed to do the ad. Havekost has also contributed to the campaign financially.

“It is time to do something serious,” Smasal said. “It is time to stand up for the safety of the public and the safety of our police officers. They should not have to walk into a building (to find a suspect ) with unlimited magazines, and silencers, and they don’t know where he is at. It is unacceptable.”

Jason Nixon says: “It is the lowest form of campaign negative advertising I have ever seen … I think it takes advantage of the tragedy. I called Missy, and asked her please take the commercial down. We don’t need to have this commercial going.”  

However Smasal says she believes it’s crucial to keep the ad playing.

“No, it is an important commercial that we gave a survivor in the building a chance to tell her story. She wanted to make a call to action and I stand with her in that.”

Nixon said, “I asked her not to do it, and she said ‘we have to agree to disagree’ and I said OK I’m going to make it my mission for you not to win your election, and that’s what I am going to do.”

Missy Cotter Smasal has raised a half million dollars this year. The Democratic PACs have given over $100,000.

She had $285,000 cash on hand on August 31, and DeSteph $260,000 on hand.

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