A veteran municipal employee opened fire at an office in Virginia Beach, Virginia on Friday, killing 12 people on three floors and sending terrified colleagues scrambling for cover before police shot and killed him following a "long gunbattle," authorities said.
Four other people were wounded in the shooting, including a police officer whose bulletproof vest saved his life, said Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera.
The city's mayor, Bobby Dyer, called it "the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach."
The shooting happened shortly after 4 p.m. when the Public Utilities Department employee entered a building in the city's Municipal Center, and "immediately began to indiscriminately fire upon all of the victims," Cervera said. Authorities did not release the suspect's name, instead choosing to focus on the victims during a news conference.
Police entered the building and got out as many employees as they could, then exchanged fire with the suspect, who was armed with a .45-caliber handgun, the chief said.
The guns were purchased legally, according to Reuters.
"It was a long gunbattle between those four officers and the suspect," he said. He said officers gave the suspect first aid after he was shot, but he died.
Police initially said the gunman shot and killed 11 people, including one who was found inside a vehicle outside the municipal building. Cervera later said one more died on the way to the hospital.
The shooting sent shock waves through Virginia Beach, the state's largest city and a popular holiday spot in southeastern Virginia. The building where the attack took place is in a suburban complex miles away from the high-rise hotels along the beach and the downtown business area.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement he was devastated by the "unspeakable, senseless violence," and is offering the state's full support to survivors and relatives of the victims.
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."
She texted her mom, telling her that there was an active shooter in the building and she and others were waiting for police.
Cheryl Benn, 65, said her husband, David, a traffic engineer with the city who was in the building where the shooting happened, had given a written statement to detectives.
She said her husband initially called her from a barricaded room and said it sounded as if someone had been working with a nail gun. Then he saw the bodies.
"This is unbelievable for Virginia Beach," she said. "By and large, it's a pretty calm and peaceful place to live."