VIRGINIA BEACH — Cathy Whitley stood beneath the Kelly’s Tavern awning as the Lifehouse Virginia Beach church band began to play. By the second song, she was on her knees with her arms and head lifted up to the rain.
She said her heart was broken by the deaths of 12 people here Friday afternoon, when police say an engineer in the city’s Department of Public Utilities walked into Building No. 2 of the local government complex just before the workday ended and opened fire.
“My heart truly goes out to the people who lost their lives,” Whitley, a retired teacher, said during a vigil organized to heal a city reeling from the country’s largest mass shooting so far this year.
The shooter, identified Saturday as DeWayne Craddock, 40, had worked for the city for 15 years, city officials said. He was armed with two legally purchased .45-caliber handguns, a silencer and a security badge that granted him access to restricted parts of the building.
He died exchanging fire with police, in the deadliest shooting in the state since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. The carnage left four other people in the hospital — three in critical condition — as of Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve heard so many stories of it happening elsewhere. Like many cities, we didn’t think it would happen here,” said Arick Goodman, a Virginia Beach resident. “Unfortunately, it did.”
Whitley and Goodman were among nearly 200 people who gathered in a shopping center to pray about an hour after authorities identified the shooter. Attendees cried, hugged, held hands and sang “Amazing Grace” in front of a Regal Cinemas movie theater.
“It’s a day none of us ever thought we’d live,” said Lifehouse Virginia Beach pastor Brandon Shank. “People say VB strong, but we know what that means.”
The phrase became a social media rallying cry for a community left reeling after what Mayor Bobby Dyer described Friday night as “Virginia Beach’s darkest hour.” The city’s official remembrance service is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Rock Church.
A training session for the Virginia Beach community on how to deal with active threats like Friday’s shooting had been scheduled for Saturday.
It was postponed. Instead, city residents found community at vigils hosted by local churches.
“This city won’t be remembered for what happened yesterday,” Lifehouse associate pastor Matt Oliver said Saturday before reading the name of each victim. “It will be remembered for what happens today.”
Gov. Ralph Northam, along with other state and local elected officials, made a surprise appearance at the morning vigil and encouraged attendees to support one another. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax attended a vigil at Bridge Church.
Northam also visited Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital on Saturday to meet with the medical teams who operated on the injured victims, some of whom he also visited.
“It’s the day we prepared for but never wanted to see,” Sentara CEO Howard P. Kern said in a statement.
Authorities said Craddock lived alone in Virginia Beach, but they declined to say Saturday whether they knew his motive or whether he’d had any recent troubles at work.
Details on his motive remain vague as police continue to investigate and interview his surviving co-workers.
The New York Times reported Saturday that Craddock only recently developed behavioral problems in the office, acting “strangely” while also getting into physical “scuffles” with other city employees.
A 1996 Daily Press article said Craddock served in the Army National Guard and was a graduate of Denbigh High School in Newport News. He first obtained an engineering license in 2008, according to state records.
Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera said the municipal building where the killings occurred resembled a war zone after a “long gunbattle” that ended with police shooting Craddock. A police officer — one of four who immediately responded to the shooting from police headquarters just a few buildings away — was shot but survived thanks to a bulletproof vest, police said.
Members of the public began to drop off flowers Saturday afternoon for an unofficial memorial outside police headquarters.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Saturday that two weapons were used in the attack. Both were .45-caliber pistols and were purchased legally in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Two other guns were found at Craddock’s home, Cervera said.
Cervera said the suspect’s name just once on Saturday, and vowed to never utter it publicly again.
“He will be forever referred to as the suspect because our focus now is the dignity and respect to the victims in this case and to their families,” Cervera said.
Crime scene tape still surrounded the building Saturday as police — now led by the FBI — collect evidence inside and outside. About 40 FBI agents are here overseeing evidence collection.
Some people attending the vigils said they didn’t know any of the victims but wanted to show up for their community. For others, though, the shooting hit close to home.
Mariana Rocha, a Norfolk native, attended church with Bert Snelling, a contractor who was trying to get a permit filled and was shot in the parking lot. He was the lone victim not employed by the city.
“He was the kindest person,” she said. “You never think it’s going to happen to someone like that.”
President Donald Trump ordered U.S. flags be flown at half-staff until sunset on Tuesday. The president said on Twitter that he’d spoken with Northam, who ordered Virginia flags to half-staff through June 8, and Virginia Beach leaders.
“The Federal Government is there, and will be, for whatever they may need,” Trump said. “God bless the families and all!”
Virginia Beach leaders are still figuring out how it will operate government come Monday. The city will be without a dozen of its workers — employees who helped the government run. The building remains a crime scene.
Saturday was for mourning, residents said, but the dawn would break.
Said Archie Callahan, the lead pastor at Bridge Church, which hosted a vigil Saturday night: “This dark cloud that’s over this city right now, it will not remain.”