A longtime public utilities employee sprayed gunfire “indiscriminately” in a government building complex on Friday in the US state of Virginia, police said, killing 11 people and wounding six in the latest mass shooting to rock the country.
The gunman was also killed after trading fire with responding officers, police chief James Cervera told a news conference.
“We have 11 deceased victims there at the scene, six more victims transported to area hospitals,” he said. The condition of those wounded was not immediately available.
The shooting happened just after 4:00 pm (2000 GMT), when the gunman entered one of the buildings at the Virginia Beach municipal complex and “immediately began to indiscriminately fire on all of the victims,” Cervera said.
He did not identify the shooter, aside from saying he was a longtime employee of the public utilities department.
The wounded included a police officer, who was saved by his bulletproof vest.
The building where the shooting took place in Virginia Beach, a city on the east coast of the US about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Washington, housed the city’s public works and utilities offices.
“This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,” Mayor Bobby Dyer told reporters. “The people involved are our friends, co-workers, neighbors and colleagues.”
Megan Banton, a public utilities employee, told local television station WVEC that during the chaos she and about 20 coworkers hid in an office, where they used a desk to wedge the door shut.
“We just wanted to try to keep everybody safe as much as we could and just trying to stay on the phone with 911, just because we wanted to make sure (police) were coming. They couldn’t come fast enough,” she said, saying it felt like “hours.”
“We heard gunshots. We kept hearing gunshots and we kept hearing the cops saying, ‘Get down.'”
Banton said she it felt “surreal” to have a mass shooting take place in her office building, and having survived it she just wanted to go home and hug her family.
“I have an 11-month-old baby at home and all I could think about was him and trying to make it home to him,” she said.
– More questions than answers –
Multiple law enforcement agencies including the FBI were working the scene Friday night due to its “size, scope, intensity,” Cervera said.
“Right now we have a lot of questions. The whys, they will come later. Right now we have more questions than we have answers.”
President Donald Trump had been briefed on the shooting and was monitoring the situation, the White House said.
According to the Washington-based Gun Violence Archive monitoring group, Friday’s shooting was the 150th mass shooting in the United States this year, defined as a single event in which four or more people are shot or killed.
Despite the scale of gun violence across the nation, gun ownership laws are lax and efforts to address the issue legislatively have long been deadlocked at the federal level.
Among Democrats, the response to the shooting was especially pointed, with many of the party’s 23 White House hopefuls weighing in on the gun violence crisis.
“Another horrific shooting shocks the nation, this time in Virginia Beach,” Pete Buttigieg tweeted. “Already, this much is clear: it is unacceptable for America to remain the only developed country where this is routine. We must act.”
– ‘Horrific day’ –
Liberal Senator Bernie Sanders decried the influence of the National Rifle Association, a powerful gun lobby group.
“The days of the NRA controlling Congress and writing our gun laws must end. Congress must listen to the American people and pass gun safety legislation. This sickening gun violence must stop,” he said in a tweet.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said it was “a horrific day.”
“Our thoughts are for the victims and families. We’re working with our law enforcement, first responders, our folks at the hospital and just making sure we take care of everybody right now,” he said as he prepared to enter a briefing on the situation.
Singer and music producer Pharrell Williams, a native of Virginia Beach, paid homage to the strength of his hometown.
“We are praying for our city, the lives that were lost, their families and everyone affected. We are resilient,” he said in a tweet.
“We will not only get through this but we’ll come out of this stronger than before we always do.”
© Agence France-Presse