Last Friday, April 20th, NASA engineer David Beverly was murdered in his office at the Johnson Space Center, shot by a co-worker who subsequently committed suicide. The co-worker was an on-site contractor who believed, mistakenly, that David was trying to have him fired. Another co-worker, Fran Crenshaw, was taken hostage during the incident but was not otherwise harmed.
Nearly everyone reading this message will be familiar with these facts, played out as they were on national television. What most of you will not know, but should, is the kind of man who was lost in this sad event, and how David and Fran behaved as they struggled to defend themselves and each other.
David Beverly was a long-time NASA engineer, a parts specialist widely regarded as one of the very best in this critical discipline in all of NASA. He was a quiet, thoughtful man, known for his willingness and ability to apply his knowledge, to convey it clearly to colleagues and co-workers, and for his dedication to NASA and its mission. He was simply in love with what we do at NASA. He was also known for his dedication to weekend motorbiking, in company with his JSC motorcycle club colleagues.
David was an engineer’s engineer. He lived in the waterfront home that he designed, and which he maintained to exacting standards. He was known to friends as the guy who could and would fix anything that went wrong, at his home or theirs. He lived in that home with his companion of five decades, Linda, his sweetheart from junior high school days and his wife since college. Linda is a facilities management professional where, ironically, she often deals with the consequences of workplace violence.
Shortly after lunch on Friday, David and Fran were confronted in their office by the killer, a man whose own office was literally down the hall, and with whom David had had lunch that very day. Though dealing with the surreal situation of being threatened by a co-worker wielding a gun, both remained calm. David tried to reason with the attacker until the man raised the gun and shot him twice, and then left the room to lock the outer office door.
Though critically wounded, David attempted with Fran’s assistance to barricade the inner office door with a desk, but was unsuccessful. The attacker returned and shot David again, this time with mortal effect.
The attacker, having barricaded himself in the office suite, then proceeded to tie Fran up, telling her that she was his hostage. After an extended conversation with Fran, and composing several suicide notes, the attacker shot himself. Hearing the shot, the Houston Police Department SWAT Team broke down the door and conducted Fran, who had freed herself, to the hospital for evaluation.
Despite her ordeal, Fran was determined to be unharmed, calm, and fully in possession of her faculties, and so was released from the hospital. She then drove immediately to the Houston Police Department, where she provided investigators with a careful recounting of the afternoon’s events, after which she was dismissed.
Linda added a bit more detail to Fran’s story. She told us how, after completing her duties to the police investigators, Fran then called Linda to tell her how David had died, and that David had told her that Linda was his “soulmate”. Linda replied, “I knew that.” I must tell you that it was very hard to hear her relate this vignette.
On Saturday, JSC Director Mike Coats and I met with Houston Police officials, who informed us of the results of their investigation. They made a point of telling us that both David and Fran had acted “heroically”, that they had done all they could, each trying to protect the other, and that they had simply never seen a calmer and more self-possessed individual than Fran in any similar situation, concerning which they had all too much experience, including another case elsewhere that same afternoon. Houston Police Chief Hurtt stated that “not all of NASA’s heroes fly in space.”
HPD officials also made a point of complimenting NASA’s handling of the incident by internal security forces, citing the manner in which the incident site was surrounded and contained by NASA security personnel until local and Federal law enforcement officials arrived, and uninvolved employees were expeditiously evacuated from the area.
While all involved performed to the highest of standards, we will nonetheless review the entire incident, with the intent of producing an “after-action report”, with lessons on both what went well and what did not, that could be valuable should such an event ever occur again.
There will be a memorial service for David Beverly on Wednesday, 2 5 April, and flags at NASA will be flown at half-staff for a week in mourning.
No more than any of you do I know what to make of, or to take from, this awful thing, other than to realize, once again, that none of us knows the day or hour of our passing, and that the “now” is precious. David and Linda did not know when they said goodbye that morning that it would be for the last time. She told me that they almost never quarreled, and that their last words were of love and caring. She will have that as her final memory of her soulmate.
Let us all go forward with the goal of leaving behind just such memories for our family, friends, and co-workers to have when our last day arrives, as it must.