About 200 people have come out in the US city of Virginia Beach to pray for 12 people killed in a mass shooting at a municipal centre by a coworker.
The prayer vigil led by a local church on Saturday morning drew city workers, community leaders, and residents, who wanted to offer hugs and condolences for those killed on Friday by a gunman identified as DeWayne Craddock.
“We grieve with you”, “we are all in this together”, Governor Ralph Northam, who also attended the vigil, told the crowd.
President Donald Trump offered his condolences to the community on Saturday over Twitter: “Spoke to Virginia Governor @RalphNortham last night, and the Mayor and Vice Mayor of Virginia Beach this morning, to offer condolences to that great community. The Federal Government is there and will be, for whatever they may need. God bless the families and all!”
Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from Virginia Beach, said multiple more vigils were scheduled, but the community was divided about gun rights.
“Even the day after the tragedy the community here is divided about how to prevent events like this from happening in the future,” she added. “One of the vigil attendees told me he supports gun rights as do many Americans.”
Motive not known
Police killed Craddock after he fired indiscriminately at his workplace colleagues, shooting 12 dead and wounding several others.
The victims were identified as Laquita C Brown, Tara Welch Gallagher, Mary Louise Gayle, Alexander Mikhail Gusev, Katherine A Nixon, Richard H Nettleton, Christopher Kelly Rapp, Ryan Keith Cox, Joshua A Hardy, Michelle “Missy” Langer, Robert “Bobby” Williams and Herbert “Bert” Snelling.
Virginia Beach police chief James Cervera said the suspect was armed with a .45-calibre handgun equipped with a “sound suppressor” device and was reloading his weapon with extended ammunition magazines as he moved through the building.
Cervera declined to comment on any possible motive but said additional weapons were recovered at the scene and from the suspect’s home.
Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen said at a press conference on Saturday that Craddock had been employed by the city for 15 years as an engineer.
Hansen said Craddock was still employed at the time of the shooting on Friday afternoon and possessed a security pass that allowed him access to non-public areas of the municipal building.
Neither Hansen nor Cervera would comment on whether Craddock was facing disciplinary or termination proceedings at the time of the shooting.
The city’s mayor Bobby Dyer called it “the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach”.
A public works employee told a local NBC television news affiliate that employees were at their desks when gunshots rang out and recounted seeing a badly injured woman in a stairwell, WAVY-TV reported on its website.
Megan Banton, an administrative assistant who works in the building where the shooting happened, said she heard gunshots, called 911 and barricaded herself and about 20 colleagues inside an office, pushing a desk against a door.
“We tried to do everything we could to keep everybody safe,” she said. “We were all just terrified. It felt like it wasn’t real, like we were in a dream. You are just terrified because all you can hear is the gunshots.”
The precise circumstances of Friday’s shooting were being investigated, 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.
The municipal centre lies several miles inland from the town’s popular seashore, situated on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
It ranks as Virginia’s most populous city with roughly 450,000 residents.
150 mass shootings
Friday’s shooting was believed to be one of the deadliest acts of workplace gun violence in the United States. In February, a factory worker shot five colleagues to death in Aurora, Illinois, just after he was let go from his job.
The Gun Violence Archive website has documented at least 150 mass shootings so far in 2019. The monitor has also documented at least 5,764 people killed and 11,060 injured by gun-related incidents since January 1.
The US House of Representatives approved two bills in February to toughen background checks for gun purchases, but the legislation faces opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House.
They were the first major gun control measures approved in Congress in years.
Although Republican President Trump has said he supports stronger background checks, he has so far toed the party line on gun control legislation, leaving Washington deadlocked on how to address frequent mass shootings in the US.
In December, however, the Trump administration banned bump stocks, devices that make semi-automatic weapons fire faster.