VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia: A disgruntled city employee opened fire at the municipal center in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on Friday (May 31) afternoon, killing 12 people and wounding at least several others before he was fatally shot by police, authorities said.
Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera gave few details of what was known about the mass shooting in the coastal resort city, but said the gunman "immediately and indiscriminately fired upon all the victims" after he entered the municipal building shortly after 4pm.
The police chief said the suspect was armed with a .45-caliber handgun equipped with a "sound suppressor" device and was reloading his weapon with extended ammunition magazines as he moved through the building.
"The suspect did shoot a police officer. The officers returned fire. The suspect is deceased," Cervera said. A city spokesman later confirmed to Reuters by email that the gunman was shot by police and later pronounced dead at a hospital.
The officer hit was among several people who survived their injuries, and he was saved by his bullet-proof vest, Cervera said.
"This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach," Mayor Bobby Dyer said at a news conference with the police chief. "The people involved are our friends, co-workers, neighbors, colleagues."
The shooting was believed to be the deadliest act of workplace gun violence in the United States since February, when a factory worker shot five colleagues to death in Aurora, Illinois, just after he was let go from his job.
According to the Washington-based Gun Violence Archive monitoring group, Friday's shooting was the 150th mass shooting in the United States this year, defined as a single event in which four or more people are shot or killed.
The precise circumstances of Friday's shooting remained under investigation, with FBI agents and Homeland Security Department forensic technicians assisting local police due to the "size and scope and intensity" of the crime scene, Cervera said.
GUNMAN WAS "DISGRUNTLED" EMPLOYEE
The police chief said the suspect was a longtime public utilities employee, and described him as "disgruntled," but declined to say more about what may have precipitated the attack.
"We have more questions than we really have answers," he told reporters about two hours after the shooting.
The bloodshed unfolded, according to Cervera, at Building Two of the municipal center complex, a facility which houses the city's public works and utilities next door to City Hall.
Six patients from the scene were sent to hospitals in the region, according to a spokesman for the Sentara Healthcare system that runs the facilities. Their conditions were not given.
"SCARED TO DEATH"
Megan Banton, a public utilities employee, told local television station WVEC that during the chaos she and about 20 coworkers hid in an office, where they used a desk to wedge the door shut.
"We just wanted to try to keep everybody safe as much as we could and just trying to stay on the phone with 911, just because we wanted to make sure (police) were coming. They couldn't come fast enough," she said, saying it felt like "hours."
"We heard gunshots. We kept hearing gunshots and we kept hearing the cops saying, 'Get down.'"
Banton said she it felt "surreal" to have a mass shooting take place in her office building, and having survived it she just wanted to go home and hug her family.
"I have an 11-month-old baby at home and all I could think about was him and trying to make it home to him," she said.
City Councilwoman Barbara Henley told the Virginian-Pilot she had just pulled up to the City Hall building when she noticed municipal employees standing outside using their cell phones, and someone told her there was a shooting and she should leave.
Henley had gotten back in her car when she heard a male voice shout, "Get down," as bystanders scattered, she told the newspaper. "I was scared to death."
Virginia Beach, which sits on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, is the state's most populous city with roughly 450,000 year-round residents.