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Inadequate alerts, not enough cameras: Probe finds Virginia Beach lacked ‘robust’ security measures during mass shooting

Police work the scene where eleven people were killed and six injured during a mass shooting at the Virginia Beach city public works building on May 31, 2019. The shooter, a current and longtime public utilities employee, also was killed. An officer was shot, but was saved by his bullet proof vest. (L. Todd Spencer/Virginian Pilot/TNS)

During Virginia Beach’s mass shooting in May, the city didn’t have the ability to alert enough employees as a longtime public utilities engineer gunned down 16 people inside Building 2, a security risk management firm said Wednesday evening.

The firm also found that the attack was not videotaped because there were no cameras on the upper floors of the three-story, 95,000 square foot building. That was just one of the holes in the city’s security systems, according to the findings of an independent investigation into the May 31 shooting.

Hillard Heintze, the security risk management firm selected to do the investigation, presented its 262-page report during a special City Council meeting. The document detailed six key takeaways and issued nearly 60 recommendations to the City Council on Wednesday. They commended the “heroic” actions of employees and first responders to prevent further casualties when a city worker killed 12 people and injured four before police fatally shot him.

Several of the 16 shooting victims’ families attended a separate briefing an hour before the public presentation.

The report found problems with communication during the response to the tragedy. Besides the lack of cameras, the city sent the first active-shooter alert after all the victims had already been shot and police had isolated the suspect. The firm noted employee enrollment in the voluntary notification system was too low to be effective but did not specify a number. About 400 employees worked in the building.

But even with these issues, the firm concluded the shooter exhibited no clear red flags that would have warranted city intervention.

Instead, the bulk of the report details how Virginia Beach could be more proactive to prevent violence in the future.

“While the City has a policy against workplace violence, it is not sufficiently robust and its requirements were not sufficiently embraced by leaders, managers and employees before May 31, 2019,” the firm wrote in the executive summary of the report.

A key aspect of the probe was an attempt to find a clear motive for the attack, which Arnette Heintze, the firm’s co-founder, said they were unable to do. But the report still details a litany of major life events in DeWayne Craddock’s life — such as a recent divorce — and changes in behavior, both professional and personal.

While the suspect, a longtime public utilities employee, had faced issues in the past few years in his job, he did not display public warning signs ahead of the shooting, the firm found.

In private, Craddock engaged in several troubling behaviors around the time he separated from his wife. Draft emails on his work account detail perceived grievances toward employees with whom he often worked and his managers. In August 2018, he complained that he was being discriminated against because he had been assigned critical projects above his pay grade, the report said.

In 2016, he began stockpiling weapons. He further isolated himself from his family and the firm couldn’t find a single friend to interview.

“I was surprised at the fact that this individual was truly isolated, and such a loner and did not seem to have a network of relationships of people that could have provided some insight into him,” Heintze said.

Starting in May 2018, he began to read more about mass shootings around the country.

But these issues did not rise to a risk level that would have required city intervention or provided a definitive motive for the attack.

Heintze said they did not find supporting evidence for any of the rumors that had spread since the shooting, such as Craddock being physically violent with colleagues in the days before or that he was retaliating after being passed over for a promotion.

Jason Nixon, the husband of shooting victim Kate Nixon, was the first to call for a third-party review of the tragedy. In the days after the shooting, he revealed that his wife had described the suspect as “chauvinistic” and said he had been written up for poor work performance. Nixon said he and some of the other families were upset by the report.

“This was just a fluff piece for the city of Virginia Beach to make them feel good,” Nixon said.

The report follows a Sept. 24 presentation from police, who said they could not determine a motive after they conducted more than 750 interviews and thousands of hours of detective work. The shooter had emailed his resignation from his job the day he carried out the rampage. Police noted that the shooter’s family said he had exhibited paranoid behavior, but he did not leave behind a manifesto explaining why he did it.

In the firm’s timeline, which began with Craddock’s high school graduation in 1996, they provide a detailed accounting of the shooting. Police faced several challenges when they responded, according to the report, and the city lacked adequate security throughout the Municipal Center.

“The City’s critical incident response protocols were not fully followed during the (shooting),” the report read.

As the shooting unfolded, first responders did not have access to critical areas in Building 2, as key card access hindered police in their pursuit of the shooter. And the city only had cameras in the basement of the building where the IT department worked.

The city’s security technology systems are not integrated for automatic video display of an active alarm and security cameras are not actively monitored, the firm said.

The firm said the city should consider physical security, random law enforcement checks and surveillance cameras in the future to bolster the safety of public buildings.

In July, the City Council hired Hillard Heintze, a Chicago company, to conduct an independent investigation into the shooting after facing pressure from some of the victims’ families who wanted the probe. The firm spent 119 days in Virginia Beach doing its work.

The probe was commissioned to create a timeline of events that led up to the shooting and to review the suspect’s employment history, city policies and workplace culture. The review was estimated to cost around $400,000.

The city allowed Hillard Heintze to “have unrestricted access to all employees, reports, documents, and other records necessary to complete the independent review.” Heintze said there was “no influence or attempt to influence” the report from any city employee or from leadership.

As part of the investigation, the group held listening sessions with employees and the public, some of whom aired concerns about the workplace environment. Heintze said the firm received a number of allegations that African American employees were being treated differently at work and were disciplined more than their counterparts.

Hillard Heintze had planned to finish the report by mid-October, but it was delayed to give investigators more time to conduct anonymous employee surveys to assess the city’s workforce of 7,300.

In the more than 3,000 responses they received, Heintze said the firm heard of employees who experienced significant problems at work but that the data did not indicate a widespread toxic culture throughout the city.

To deal with these issues and others, Hillard Heintze issued a host of recommendations, including that the city should:

Institute mandatory workplace violence prevention training.

Establish a formal behavioral threat assessment team to prevent workplace violence.

Create an independent channel for employees to voice concerns.

Restructure its highly decentralized Human Resources department to establish roles, reporting channels, policies and protocols, data management and training.

Nixon said the report was just a summary of what the city and police wanted them to know.

He said he plans to ask the General Assembly to order a “real special investigation.”

As he stood in a dark, cold parking lot near the building where his wife died, he said this is far from over.


© 2019 The Virginian-Pilot