May 31 independent probe might take longer than expected

Arnette Heintze provides an update for City Council regarding the status of the independent review into the May 31 mass shooting tragedy. (Lucretia Cunningham/Southside Daily)
Arnette Heintze provides an update for City Council regarding the status of the independent review into the May 31 mass shooting. (Lucretia Cunningham/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Arnette Heintze, CEO of Hillard Heintze, stood in front of City Council during their workshop Tuesday and provided the first public status update of the independent probe into the May 31 mass shooting.

Heintze said over the last 40 days the team has been mulling over some 10 hours of police body-camera footage, 6,500 documents, and 335,000 emails with attachments looking for any information relevant to what he said were crucial facets of the investigation: the shooter’s motives, factors that influenced the shooter on that day, life stressors, significant family issues, or work factors.

“The goal is to help the community understand why but just as important, what can be done in the future to prevent another tragic act of violence like this,” he said.

With more than 90 interviews conducted — 47 of those with city employees who worked in Building 2 — Heintze said the team is in the process of scheduling 23 more.

They’ve also received about 95 emails and more than 50 phone calls on the dedicated email and phone number where the public can continue to submit information they think is relevant.

“We’re putting forth a very significant effort to review and analyze this information,” Heintze said. “We will be able to report on our findings though I can’t predict what we’re going to find.”

When they’ll be able to report on their findings is the question.

In their original proposal, the Chicago-based firm outlined a 12-week timeline which by the end would produce a report for public release.

After coming face-to-face with the massive workload, Heintze said they still have a goal to have a report by Oct. 11 but “can’t specifically call an investigation and say it’s done in exactly 12 weeks.”

“The volume of information that has arisen in this case is one that could sway the timing of things and if it does, we’re going to make sure we share that information as soon as we have a handle on it,” he said.

While addressing City Council, Heintze also commended city leaders and law enforcement for their full cooperation, support, and “hands-off approach.”

“We’ve received everything we’ve asked for — in particular, the police department has been crucial in helping our team gain relevant insight and information that we need to carry forth your mandate,” he told City Council.

Members from the Chicago-based review team announced at their July meet-and-greet with the community that they hoped to provide updates every three-to-four weeks not to reveal facts they’ve found but for insight and progress the probe is making — Heintze said the next update is scheduled on or about Sept. 24.

During phase one of the review, “listening and learning on-site,” the team invited questions, comments, and concerns from the public in two listening sessions where several felt the “toxic work environment” acted as a foundation for the violence that transpired in Building 2 on May 31 — city employees were invited to two other separate sessions.

RELATED STORY: Ryan ‘Keith’ Cox talked about ‘unfair treatment’ at work for years

Heintze addressed recent concerns from members of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference Tuesday who felt the team should be looking into issues within city departments including racism, sexism, and human resource practices as part of their investigation.

RELATED STORY: VB Ministers Conference: City auditor and Hillard Heintze have conflicting messages on mass shooting independent probe

“We’re looking into all those matters and we need the community and employees to come forward with this. We can’t make opinions about it, we need to hear the facts that relate to that,” he said.

Heintze restated their dedicated lines are open to anyone with information or around “what is being referred to as a toxic environment” to come forward by phone or email — 877-208-5650, VirginiaBeach@HillardHeintze.com.

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Lucretia Cunningham is a multimedia journalist at Southside Daily covering hyper-local stories in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Her stories focus on public safety, tourism, and city government. She is a Virginia transplant and military spouse originally from Chicago. Lucretia also served on active duty from 2006 to 2016 and started her journalism career as a broadcaster in the Virginia Air National Guard. When she’s not covering stories on the Southside, she’s covering stories with her Air National Guard unit.