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Virginia Beach Investigators Find No Motive For 2019 Mass Shooting

gathered for vigil
One year later, Virginia Beach residents gathered to remember the victims of a mass shooting. (2020 File Photo: Sam Turken/WHRO)

After a 20-month investigation, Virginia Beach officials say they found no motive for the mass shooting that killed 12 people at the city’s municipal center in May 2019.

final investigative report released Wednesday details events surrounding the shooting. It notes that the gunman left no manifesto nor had any threatening social media accounts, emails or documents that could have warned city officials and helped prevent the shooting.

“Despite exhaustive investigative work,” the report reads, “it appears we may never know why he committed this heinous act.”

The report marks the end of Virginia Beach’s investigation. Law enforcement will reopen the case if they discover new evidence. 

On May 31, 2019, a city engineer fatally shot 12 people at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center and injured four other city employees. The shooter then died in a shootout with police. 

As part of its investigation, Virginia Beach law enforcement conducted more than 1,000 interviews and examined over 504 pieces of physical evidence.

The new report includes an in-depth profile of the gunman and his history as a city employee. 

Investigators learned that between 2006 and 2019, the shooter bought six firearms and a gun silencer. He also routinely visited news websites when other mass shootings happened. In 2017, he and wife divorced and members of his immediate family observed that he began to withdraw and had little social interaction with others.

However, none of that was enough to warn people he was capable of deadly violence or show he had a clear motive for the shooting. The report says police found no concerns with his financial, medical and mental health records. Other than two traffic citations, he had no criminal history.

“The department feels a little defeated because they knew the community was looking for this answer and we were unable to provide it,” Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate said in an interview. “We’re sorry, but we have to go where the facts and evidence points us.”

Neudigate and City Manager Patrick Duhaney both joined the city in the last year and noted they reviewed the entire investigation with a fresh perspective. 

“The staff that lived it and dealt with it -- they were really close to it,” Duhaney said. “Really the thing that we could provide was a gut check.”

The findings of Virginia Beach’s investigation echo similar conclusions by independent investigators released in 2019.

They found the shooter had experienced personal struggles in the years leading up to the shooting, including the divorce. He also complained about feeling singled out for unsatisfactory work performance.

At one point, investigators heard reports of a hostile work environment for Black people. But based on an independent survey, they concluded the work atmosphere was not a contributing factor to the shooting. The shooter, who was Black, did not single out any race, age or gender during the massacre.

“Most of the individuals that our investigators interviewed described him as quirky, a loner, but nothing that would give us pause to indicate that there was this toxic environment,” Neudigate said.

The VB Strong Center provides support and resources to relatives, survivors of the shooting and other staff as they recover from the attack. The office can be reached at 757-507-7200.