VIRGINIA BEACH, Va – A man opened fire on workers coming to inspect the apartment his mother had been ordered to leave, killing two and wounding three before committing suicide, authorities said Thursday.
William T. Smith opened the door Wednesday afternoon at the Thalia Gardens complex and began shooting with an AK-47 assault rifle and a Mac 10 9mm semiautomatic handgun, police spokeswoman Margie Long said.
Smith, 52, fatally shot 63-year-old maintenance technician Sam Shestul inside the two-story brick apartment building, Long said. The other workers ran outside, but Smith followed them, still shooting, she said.
Officers arrived to find maintenance technician Rebecca Diane Hughes, 32, dead in the parking lot and three injured people. Most of the victims were shot multiple times, and none had been armed, Long said.
Apartment managers had told Smith's mother her lease was not being renewed and gave her until the end of the month to leave, said Michael R. Devine, vice president for the company that manages the complex. He would not give the reason or the woman's name but said she had told managers she already had moved out.
It was unclear whether Smith had been living in the apartment, but Devine, of S.L. Nusbaum Realty Co., said workers entering the apartment for a routine inspection did not know he was there.
"This was not an eviction," Devine said, correcting earlier statements by police. "This was a normal, routine operation. It was just like Virginia Tech. It was a normal day and then something went wrong."
Long said two of the injured were maintenance technicians and one was a community manager at the Thalia Gardens complex. One person was in critical condition Thursday evening and the others were listed as stable, police spokesman Adam Bernstein said.
Bob Wesner, a registered nurse, said he was taking out his garbage around 4:45 p.m. when he heard six shots. He ran into the parking lot, where he saw Hughes lying on her right side in a pool of blood with wounds to her head and abdomen. He saw one of the injured maintenance workers stagger around the corner and collapse.
Wesner said a security officer directed him and others to the complex's clubhouse, where they stayed for several hours.
Smith went back inside the building, but when police arrived they were not sure where he was, Long said.
Several streets were closed off and residents were told to stay indoors while police searched for the gunman, and a nearby high school was locked down. Most students already had been sent home for the day.
SWAT team members began issuing orders by loudspeaker to the gunman to come out around 7 p.m. Police entered the building and found the bodies of Smith and Shestul after 10 p.m.
It wasn't immediately known when Smith died, but Long said it was clear he killed himself because police fired no shots.
A bullet hole was visible Thursday in a window in the apartment building across the parking lot from the shooting, and gauze and a coil of plastic medical tubing lay on the ground beneath the window.
Police were checking to see whether Smith had permits for the guns, Long said. She said she could not comment on whether he had a criminal record.
Wesner said he did not know Smith.
"This impression I'm getting is that almost nobody knew him," he said.
Wesner said he did not know Smith but knew the maintenance staff well. He described Shestul was a jovial man who had been married for a long time. Hughes, he said, "was one of their hardest workers, very conscientious, a very pleasant person."
Residents and staff at the sprawling, 590-unit apartment complex said Shestul had immigrated about 10 years ago, possibly from Russia or the former Czechoslovakia.
"We loved him. Sam was like Uncle Sam," Devine said.
Katie Larkin, a maintenance secretary at the complex, carried a pot of Easter lilies past the spot where Hughes died as she made her way from a visit with one of the grief counselors the realty company made available for residents and employees.
Hughes had two children, and her husband is in Korea with the military, Larkin said. She said they were best friends and often went to karaoke bars, where Hughes would demand that Larkin sing "Here Without You" by Three Doors Down.
Devine said his company set up a fund for donations to help the families of the victims.