VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The families sat in the front of the city council chamber Tuesday night, united in their grief and frustration. Some had flown across the country. Others had driven across town. Most wore reminders of those they had lost in a May 31 rampage at the Virginia Beach municipal complex: a pin mourning a beloved sister, shirts honoring a heroic brother, a necklace that said "VB Strong."

After almost four months of waiting, of wondering, of whispers about what might have happened, the relatives of those killed had come for answers.

But they had also come to be seen.

They had been offered a private room to watch the briefing on the investigation into the mass shooting. Yet at least three families had chosen to be here, in front of the cameras and the council members.

"I want to face them," said Debbie Borato, whose sister, 60-year-old Missy Langer, was killed. "I want them to know I'm there."

The families had spent the summer struggling to understand why a city engineer named DeWayne Craddock had fatally shot a dozen people, all but one of them co-workers, before he was killed by police. City officials had said little, citing the open investigation.

Then, two weeks ago, the families had received a letter from Mayor Bobby Dyer.

"The Virginia Beach Police Department is ready to provide a presentation of findings to date in its criminal investigation into the events of May 31," it said.

Borato, who lives in Venice, Florida, abandoned a vacation in Charleston to fly to Virginia Beach. The short notice was the latest in a string of insults, she said.

She had learned that Missy was killed in the stairway not from police but from news reports and her sister's colleagues. And for weeks she had been texting the police detective who had been assigned to help her family - one of many who had attended her sister's funeral in Ohio - without an answer. She had grown so frustrated that she had dumped a bunch of Virginia Beach Police patches in the trash, taken a picture and then sent it to the detective.

Jason Nixon, whose wife, Kate, was among the dead, had led the successful calls for an outside investigation into the massacre. On Tuesday morning, he began fielding interviews shortly after dawn.

Kate had kept meticulous journals at work, taking notes on meetings and projects, even co-workers' absences. After months of asking for the journals, police finally allowed her husband to view them Tuesday afternoon.

At 1 p.m., Nixon visited the police station with his mother and sister. They were taken to an interview room and handed five journals filled with Kate's clear, careful script.

Nixon picked up a gray notebook that he had given his wife. Inside were lists of dishes for office potlucks, Kate always signing up for more than anyone else. Drawings by their three daughters. A few of the girls' report cards.

Inside another notebook were a series of blue tabs, one for each mention of Craddock, whom Kate considered a chauvinist and had written up for poor performance, her husband said.

After an hour of poring over the notebooks, the Nixons were escorted to Building 2 by Chris Geller, a firefighter assigned to the family.

The Nixons and many other families had wanted Building 2 torn down, but the city had decided against the idea.

"I'd like to put it on a referendum and let the city of Virginia Beach vote," Nixon said. "And if they want to keep it, then put city hall in there. Let them work where my wife was murdered."

Geller said nothing.

They were greeted outside by Police Chief Jim Cervera, who shook Jason's hand and gave his mother a bouquet of pink flowers to leave at the site where Kate died.

"We are just letting you know that we care about you," he said, "we care about what happened, and since I said on the first day, we just want to show our respect. I'm pretty sure we've done that."

He led them down a ramp to the basement, then up an elevator to the second floor.

This was where Jason and Kate had held a baby shower for the youngest of their three daughters a little more than a year ago. It was where he often met her before they'd go to grab pizza nearby.

Now the office was "dead," Nixon said afterward.

"Full of ghosts," added his mother, Alexis.

Patches of carpet and parts of walls were missing. The chief explained that anything contaminated with "biohazard" had been removed.

Room 233 was barren. The only signs of Kate that remained were her coat rack - where Jason's mother now left the bouquet - and the paper clips she had stuck in the ceiling to keep the tiles from vibrating. A five-foot section of the wall had been removed.

Kate had called her husband from here after being shot, telling him to dial 911 before hanging up. When he tried her back, there had been no answer. Now a police officer told him Kate had been found on the floor, partway under her desk, as if trying to hide.

His sister handed him a pen and suggested he leave a message for his wife.

"I will always love you," he wrote on the wall. "I will make sure the girls are taken care of. I will raise them the way you would want me to. Me and the girls will never forget you. You have always been there for us and I will not quit until we get the truth of your murder."

Two other families visited the building Tuesday.

Borato arrived just before 5 p.m., stepping out of a rented SUV and following the chief into the stairway where her sister had been shot in the back of the head.

Like the offices upstairs, the stairway was stripped bare. The tiles where Missy had died had been removed. Borato had brought a small plaque but police said she couldn't put it up. Instead, they promised to install it after the walls had been repainted and to send her a photo.

She wanted to leave her sister a message but didn't have a pen, so she used one of the purple flowers the chief had given her to smear "MISSY" in crimson on the wall.

"With a heart above the 'I,' " she said later.

Her visit was cut short when police told her they had to go to the briefing.

Borato took a seat inside the council chambers behind the Nixons. Behind her sat a family of five dressed in matching orange shirts - Joshua Hardy's favorite color.

Denise Smallwood had spent months trying to figure out how her twin brother had died. Co-workers had told her that Hardy, 52, had fought the gunman, allowing others to escape. Now she wanted to hear it from the police.

In their presentation, however, the police didn't acknowledge his heroism or mention her brother by name. Nor did they mention Missy Langer. Nor Kate Nixon. Instead, the investigators spoke mostly about the gunman, whose motive remains a mystery. They'd found no financial issues, health problems or evidence of physical altercations with his co-workers, Deputy Chief Patrick Gallagher said.

"He was actually described by many that we interviewed as quiet, polite, a nice guy and a good listener," Gallagher said, eliciting scoffs from some of the relatives.

"To sit there and say he was a quiet professional, that's a crock," Nixon fumed afterward. He vowed to push even harder for answers. "My kids don't have a mother anymore. I'm not going to let this ride."

Borato shook with rage as she clutched copies of a letter demanding answers she hadn't received. She blamed the shooting on the toxic atmosphere that she said her sister had often described tearily over the phone. But her sister's supervisors hadn't shown up, she said, so now she pointed a finger at a passing police officer.

"My sister was the one in the stairwell," she said angrily as the officer stared back in confusion.