Editorial: Oceanfront shooting demands answers

The Virginian-Pilot & Daily Press Editorial Board, The Virginian-Pilot
·3 min read

Members of the Virginia Beach City Council have called for a special meeting today to brief the public about the deadly shootings at the Oceanfront over the weekend.

They should plan to be at the Convention Center for a while. There’s an awful lot to discuss.

Three shootings on Friday night killed two, wounded at least eight others and have three people facing felony charges. The details known to the public reflect a chaotic series of events threatening everyone in the area on an unseasonably warm night that drew crowds to the Oceanfront.

For those involved, the events of that evening are heartbreaking and tragic. Promising young lives were cut short or forever changed. Choices were made that will reverberate for years. And the resort area, which is supposed to be a place of fun and entertainment for all, will wear the stain for some time.

Even as investigators continue their important work, there are some details we know.

A Virginia Beach police officer stood near the intersection of 20th Street and Atlantic Avenue when two groups of people opened fire in front of him on Friday night. Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate highlighted that fact in his press conference Saturday evening after the violence at the resort area.

Not even the presence of a uniformed officer prevented an outbreak of gun violence in a crime that caused multiple injuries and led to three people facing felony charges and long prison terms.

We still do not know enough about the shooting death of Norfolk’s Deshayla “Shay” Harris or Virginia Beach’s Donovan Lynch, whose fatal injuries occurred in the other two incidents on Friday.

The details known to the public about Lynch’s death are troubling. The officer’s body camera was not activated, despite responding to an active shooting. Neudigate said a gun was found “in the vicinity” and could not confirm it was Lynch’s.

That has prompted calls from several groups, the NAACP among them, for a detailed and independent investigation into what happened. Neudigate deflected those on Saturday but taking the review out of the department’s hands may be the best course of action.

The shooting death of any innocent citizen, regardless of race, demands justice. The evidence must confirm the taking of a life was justified or a crime, just as the charges facing other suspects in Friday’s violence will be weighed by the courts.

Further investigation will provide more details about Lynch’s death, but it will also inspire more urgent calls for effective police oversight. City Council will have an opportunity to provide a review board with the authority it needs to conduct its important work.

Beach police have a policy for body cameras and will need to explain why it was not activated in this case. It should make public all of the relevant body camera footage and refer the officer-involved shooting to the Virginia State Police to endure an independent eye takes measure of the facts and renders a more impartial verdict.

But beyond the legal process of these crimes themselves looms the larger problem of Virginia Beach’s reputation, which will suffer as a result of this. Lives were lost, and nothing should distract from focus on their memory, but it’s also true that the Oceanfront’s economic success is essential to the city, making public safety paramount.

The resort area needs to have a successful tourist season, especially as Virginia emerges from this pandemic. Businesses, and the families who depend on them, hang in the balance after a year of incredible hardship. So much depends on Virginia Beach being known as a safe and welcoming place for visitors and residents alike.

In sum, there’s a lot to discuss about the shootings in Virginia Beach this weekend, and how the process unfolds will weigh heavily on the city’s future. We need officials to be courageous, determined and transparent in their pursuit of justice, wherever it may lead.

The public has plenty of questions about what transpired. Answers must be forthcoming.