FBI Norfolk
Public Affairs Specialist Christina Pullen
(757) 609-2687
April 27, 2020

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the FBI’s Role in the Criminal Investigation of the Shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on May 31, 2019

What is the FBI’s role in the Virginia Beach mass killing incident on May 31, 2019?

The FBI has provided law enforcement assistance to the Virginia Beach Police Department but is not conducting an independent or parallel investigation.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, and at the request of the Virginia Beach Police Department, the FBI deployed crisis management and operational personnel, as well as FBI investigators to assist with the local response. This included field Evidence Response Teams and experts from the FBI Laboratory who conducted a complex 10-day evidence recovery operation and forensic investigation of the crime scene in Municipal Center Building 2. Specialists from the FBI’s Victim Services Division also deployed to support victims, family members, and others who were impacted by the incident.

In addition, to support the police department’s ongoing investigation FBI agents conducted numerous victim and witness interviews, computer experts examined the attacker’s work computer for digital evidence, and behavioral analysis personnel provided consultation and guidance to investigators.

Why isn’t the FBI in charge of the criminal investigation?

Most active shooter and mass casualty incidents are violations of state and local criminal law. An act of violence alone, even as large scale or horrifying as it may be, does not necessarily give the FBI primary investigative authority. The FBI investigates federal matters under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and which involve, among other things, domestic or international terrorist activities. However, the FBI is authorized to assist other law enforcement authorities in certain instances when requested by the appropriate state or local officials.

If these types of incidents are considered local police issues, why does the FBI respond?

As a matter of protocol, the FBI provides support and assistance as requested to partner law enforcement agencies during active shooter incidents and in the aftermath. These types of incidents demand attention from all levels of law enforcement, and each agency brings unique resources and authorities to help manage and resolve an event. The FBI was one of several local, state, and federal law enforcement partners who responded to Virginia Beach.

What gives the FBI the authority to respond to active shooter or mass casualty incidents?

The FBI has always had the authority to support other law enforcement agencies in certain instances if requested, but this authority was augmented by the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, which permits the U.S. Attorney General—at the request of the appropriate state or local law enforcement personnel—to provide federal assistance during active shooter incidents and mass killings in public places. The Attorney General delegated this responsibility to the FBI. A “mass killing” is defined by federal law as the killing of three or more people in a single incident.

What did the evidence recovery operation and forensic crime scene investigation entail?

Evidence Response Teams from several of the Bureau’s field offices responded to Virginia Beach to document the extensive, complex crime scene and collect evidence. These experienced teams are specially trained to efficiently and methodically identify, document, collect, package, and preserve evidence.

The Laboratory Shooting Reconstruction Team (LSRT), which is composed of subject matter experts from the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, also deployed to Virginia Beach to analyze, document, and reconstruct the shooting incident. This team uses specialized equipment and techniques, such as surveying and laser scanning, to reconstruct shooting incidents and establish a sequence of events. A final report takes approximately 12 months to complete and will be delivered to the Virginia Beach Police Department.

For more information about Evidence Response Teams and the FBI’s forensic services and capabilities go to fbi.gov/services/laboratory/forensic-response.

Does the FBI have a laptop computer belonging to the shooter?

Neither the FBI nor the Virginia Beach Police Department located or seized a laptop computer or a desktop computer belonging to the shooter and are not aware of the existence of a personal laptop or desktop computer belonging to the shooter.

During the FBI’s evidence collection operation at the crime scene, the FBI obtained the shooter’s city-owned work computer and immediately created a mirrored digital image of the hard drive that contained the contents of the computer. The FBI provided the digital image containing the contents of the work computer to Virginia Beach Police investigators within 24 hours of the incident.

Does the FBI have any investigative materials or information regarding the Virginia Beach mass killing incident that has not been shared with the police department?

No. There have been open lines of communication and consistent information sharing between the FBI and Virginia Beach Police Department from the hours and days following the attack through the duration of the ongoing investigation. The FBI has shared all completed investigative materials with the police department including investigation reports, interviews, and computer analysis.