VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — Several members of a state commission tasked with conducting an independent investigation of a 2019 mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia, have stepped down in recent months — raising doubts among some whether the panel can perform its job.
The Virginia Beach Mass Shooting Commission began with 21 members, but 10 members have resigned, according to a spokesperson for the state office that oversees the panel.
Some current and former members have expressed frustrations with the way the investigation into the shooting has been handled, suggesting that efforts could be intentionally impeded to shield the city, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk reported.
“We have lost 10 people; I am quite upset about it,” said current member David Cariens, telling the newspaper that most have left in the past six months.
“I think there are people on the commission who do not want to be aggressive in investigating,” Cariens added. “The net result of their lack of enthusiasm to investigate is that it does protect the city.”
A city engineer fatally shot 12 people and wounded four others on May 31, 2019, at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center before he was killed by police. The commission’s charge in part is to recommend improvements to Virginia’s laws, policies and other areas to minimize the risk for future shootings.
Kate Hourin, communications director for the Office of the State Inspector General, which oversees the commission, confirmed the 10 resignations last week but declined to comment further.
Commission chairman Ryant Washington said some members left the volunteer positions due to family matters or because it was interfering with their jobs.
Washington, a former Fluvanna County sheriff and state law enforcement administrator, said he hopes the vacancies will be filled but that the commission’s work will continue regardless. The group meets about once a month in Richmond.
“There are many of us who are working diligently,” he said. “We are trying to do what is set before us and I think we will continue to do that.”
Rebecca Cowan, who resigned from the commission last month, wrote to Attorney General Jason Miyares and Virginia Beach Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler about her concerns in an email. Miyares, then another Virginia Beach delegate, and Convirs-Fowler pushed to create the state commission in 2020.
Cowan wrote that efforts to obtain necessary information were met with resistance from the city and some commission members.
“In my opinion, manipulative attempts have been made to stifle information-seeking,” she wrote. “I have concerns that the commission’s work is being obstructed from within, either deliberately or due to negligence.”
Miyares and Convirs-Fowler didn’t respond Friday to a request for comment from the newspaper.
Vice Chairman Robert “Butch” Bracknell said the panel would benefit from more state support, such as the addition of full-time staff members.
Jason Nixon, whose wife, Kate, was killed in the shooting, said he’s been deeply disappointed with the commission and no longer has faith in its work.
“It’s embarrassing for the state of Virginia,” Nixon said. “They should be ashamed of themselves to allow this to go on.”
The FBI said in June 2021 that its investigation determined the employee who conducted the shooting rampage “was motivated by perceived workplace grievances” that “he fixated on for years.”