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After Mass Shooting, Virginia Beach Council Approves Independent Probe

The investigation will focus on creating a timeline of the tragedy, reviewing the gunman's employment history and analyzing how to prevent workplace violence in the future.

Memorial in front of police tape and building with parking lot.
A makeshift memorial rests at the edge of a police cordon in front of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center where 11 employees and a contractor were fatally shot.
(AP/Patrick Semansky)
By Peter Coutu

Since his wife was killed in a mass shooting at her work on May 31, Jason Nixon said he has been so stressed that he's become sick.

He's been to the emergency room twice, and he is going to the hospital next week, possibly to have his gallbladder removed. It started bothering him after his wife, Kate, was killed, he said.

But that hasn't stopped his fight for an independent investigation into what happened the Friday a Virginia Beach public utilities employee fatally shot 12 and seriously wounded four others before police killed him.

"I just want to make sure her name doesn't die in vain," he said of his wife, who was a public utilities engineer. "It just tears me up that my wife went to work for the city and lost her life."

After previously hesitating to act, the City Council on Tuesday approved an independent probe, which could start this month.

The investigation will focus on creating a timeline of the tragedy, reviewing the gunman's employment history and analyzing how to prevent workplace violence in the future.

The unanimous vote marks a reversal for several council members who had initially wanted to wait for the criminal investigation to wrap up before approving such a review. But after pressure mounted _ with the families of three victims saying officials haven't been transparent _ city leaders elected to move forward with the probe.

"The time for thinking about and debating this is done," said Kevin Martingayle, an attorney representing the Nixon family. "It's time for action."

The call for an independent probe started in Virginia Beach with Jason Nixon, who lost the mother of his three daughters. Over the phone Tuesday night, Nixon said he still has concerns about the process and wants someone from the state Attorney General's office to select the firm that would investigate.

"Nobody in Virginia Beach should have their hands in this," he said. "It's just too close to home."

Here's how Virginia Beach's investigation will work: On Wednesday, City Auditor Lyndon Remias will start seeking bids for an independent consultant to conduct the review. The proposal will be open until July 12.

There is still no firm start date for the investigation, but it will begin "as soon as the contract is awarded" _ the goal is within three to four weeks, Remias said.

The city will pay for the review with money from the Risk Management Fund.

Remias will have a limited role in overseeing the process but will have no control over the substance of the review. He will serve as the contact for Virginia Beach, according to documents. The City Council will have no say in the review.

The independent consultant will have "unrestricted access to all employees, reports, documents and other records necessary to complete the review," according to city materials. Eventually, a public report will be issued to city leadership, but without confidential details on employees and sensitive facility security information.

Martingayle worried that language would allow officials to withhold too much of the report and urged city leaders to publish as much as possible.

The council's decision was expected, even after the city's initial reluctance. The only detractor was Councilwoman Barbara Henley, who voiced concerns that immediately commissioning such a review implied a mistrust in how Virginia Beach Police were conducting the criminal investigation.

An analysis by The Virginian-Pilot found that third-party reviews after mass shootings are common and often provide sweeping recommendations to improve safety.

More than a month after the shooting, the lingering questions have centered on the workplace history of the gunman.

In the days after the massacre, City Manager Dave Hansen called the gunman's work performance "satisfactory" and said that he was in good standing in his department.

But Kate Nixon wrote disciplinary notes about the shooter's attitude and work performance, her husband previously revealed.

Two other families _ Debbie Borato, who lost her sister, Missy Langer, and Cassandra "DD" Hardy and Denise Smallwood, whose brother, Josh Hardy, was killed _ have issued similar demands for more transparency.

"We have to allow this to be truly independent to allow the facts to take it no matter where it goes," Councilman Aaron Rouse said before the vote. "Because once we vote on this tonight, I don't think we should be taking it up again until the investigation is done."

(c)2019 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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