Virginia Beach Residents Attend Vigil To Mourn 12 People Killed
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It was a nondescript municipal office building in Virginia Beach where people would get building permits or pay water bills. But on Friday, it turned into the scene of another American mass shooting. What we know so far is that a city employee entered that building, gunned down 11 of his co-workers and a contractor there to pick up a permit. Authorities still don't know why. Here's Whittney Evans of member station WCVE.
WHITTNEY EVANS, BYLINE: The Virginia Beach municipal government complex is a sprawling campus filled with stately buildings and manicured lawns. It feels like a peaceful place to be. Any other day, it probably is. But today, yellow caution tape lines the perimeter of the complex, telling a story of chaos, fear and heartbreak.
VALERIE HENCHEL: We had taken cover and heard the gun battle below us.
EVANS: Valerie Henchel was in the building Friday when one of her co-workers, a 40-year-old man who had worked a floor beneath her every day for years, opened fire on his colleagues. Henchel spoke to me Saturday during a vigil for the victims. She says she took cover in her office as the shooter stalked employees on three floors of the building.
HENCHEL: He did not come in there, fortunately. Apparently, he had an agenda, and traffic engineering wasn't on it, so thank God.
EVANS: It left her bewildered, in addition to being upset and angry.
HENCHEL: This guy was an engineer. We're rational people in general. Why did that - how did that happen? You know, how did it get to that?
EVANS: Kaitlyn Mitchell isn't a government employee. She attended the rainy vigil to be with her community and show her support.
KAITLYN MITCHELL: This is one of those things where you see it happen on TV, and it's a bad dream for other people. It's a reality for other people, but you didn't think it was going to come here.
EVANS: But with the sorrow and the disbelief came the inevitable frustration. In a prayer, Luther S. Allen, III, a local Baptist minister, gave a rousing indictment of the gun violence that persists in the United States.
LUTHER S ALLEN III: God, no longer can we permit this to impact our nation. God, we need something different.
EVANS: He's calling for a deeper understanding of the reasons behind mass shootings.
ALLEN: At some point, we have to begin to deal with the underlying issues beyond just gun violence. You're talking about mental health. You're talking about the economy. You're talking about disparities. You're talking about a whole system that kind of feeds into this kind of outburst, and it's being exacerbated by people who are hopeless.
EVANS: Outside a Virginia Beach courthouse, resident Nikia Moree called for more gun regulations.
NIKIA MOREE: And that's what we need, a game-changer, not just somebody just keep talking to say what the people want to hear. We don't need to make America great again. We need to make America safe.
EVANS: Virginia lawmakers tried to pass a law earlier this year banning weapons in municipal buildings just like the one in Virginia Beach. It was defeated early in the session by Republicans who say gun restrictions prevent legal gun owners from protecting themselves.
Virginia's Democratic Governor Ralph Northam told NPR's Don Gonyea yesterday he supported that legislation and will continue to support such action.
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RALPH NORTHAM: We cannot let ourselves become desensitized to this. We must do what the people are asking us to do, and that is to move forward and make sure that our communities are safe.
EVANS: Virginia's Republican Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment told The Washington Post it was too soon after the killings to talk about politics.
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EVANS: Outside the government complex, members of the community are doing one of the few things they can do to ease the pain. People trickle in little by little, pausing to talk to one another and share their condolences. Flower bouquets are piling up on the lawn, some lodged in city government signs. In the background, law enforcement works to piece together an event that turned the coastal city upside down.
For NPR News, I'm Whittney Evans in Virginia Beach.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.