Virginia Beach embraces mourning, awaits healing


Virginian-Pilot of Virginia Beach, Va.: After the mass shooting at Virginia Tech 12 years ago, professor and poet Nikki Giovanni delivered a stirring address that included a simple truth.

“No one deserves a tragedy.”

It is a mantra that bears repeating in Virginia Beach and across a commonwealth that on Friday witnessed yet another senseless act of violence.

According to law enforcement, a gunman shot one person in a car outside of a government building at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center before proceeding inside, where he fired at public workers, citizens, police – anyone who had the misfortune to be at that place and time.

Twelve people died from the gunfire. Most were city employees and residents of Virginia Beach. Many had worked in those offices for several years and, in one case, for more than four decades.

“This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,” Mayor Bobby Dyer said at a Friday news conference. “The people involved are our friends, co-workers, neighbors and colleagues.”

Those killed, confirmed by police officials on Saturday morning, should be held in our hearts, our prayers and our memories. They are Laquita C. Brown, Tara Welch Gallagher, Mary Louise Gayle, Alexander Mikhail Gusev, Katherine A. Nixon, Richard H. Nettleton, Christopher Kelly Rapp, Ryan Keith Cox, Joshua A. Hardy, Michelle “Missy” Langer, Robert “Bobby” Williams and Herbert “Bert” Snelling.

Four others were injured, some critically. One of those shot was a Virginia Beach police officer who was saved by his ballistics vest. He was among the brave first responders who were on the scene quickly and, according to Police Chief James Cervera, engaged the suspect in an extended gunbattle.

The suspect, who was a 40-year-old who worked as for the city’s public utilities department for 15 years, was shot by police and died at the scene. Investigators hope to learn what led to his decision to come to his workplace armed with a .45-caliber handgun and murder his co-workers.

NO ONE DESERVED SUCH A FATE

No one deserved this tragedy, certainly not the men and women whose lives were cruelly and coldly extinguished on Friday afternoon.

When the gunman stormed into Building 2, they were in the final hours of a work week, putting the finishing touches on things before heading out the door to family, friends and the open-armed promise of the weekend. They did nothing to earn their awful fate.

Neither do their loved ones deserve the future to which they have been sentenced, one of sorrow, of absence and of cherished memory. They will need the strength of the living – the love and compassion of their community, united in support – to endure the anguish of all the days to come.

It is an awful thing that this happened anywhere and difficult to square this with the peaceful setting of the Municipal Center.

The complex nods to the community’s rural history and is a world away from the bustle of the Oceanfront. The sprawling array of Colonial-style brick buildings recall a simpler time, when people could expect to go to work, or school, or church, or the theater or any number of other places without fear of a mass shooting.

So while this happened in Virginia Beach, it is not the community’s burden to bear alone. That was evident in the messages of support and sympathy that poured in from the other cities here and across the commonwealth, with offers to help in whatever way they could.

That kindness– all kindness, right now – is greatly welcomed and sorely needed.

POLICY QUESTIONS

There are policy questions that must be asked and answered, both big and small, in the aftermath of this. These deserve a robust debate, one with ample participation from the public, aimed at making this community and this country a better, stronger and safer place to live.

This was the deadliest shooting in Virginia Beach’s history and the worst in the United States this year. That distinction is unlikely to hold for long. There have been more than 150 mass shootings in 2019, and this was only the deadliest nationwide since November.

Thus, we are challenged: Either we resign ourselves to the fact that what happened in Virginia Beach on Friday, and countless other communities before it, is part of life in America. Or we commit ourselves to something different. The choice is ours to make.

Today, however, our thoughts should be centered on the lives lost, on those poised for a long recovery and for all those mourning.

“We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning,” Giovanni said a dozen years ago and nearly 300 miles from the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. “No one deserves a tragedy.”

What was true then is true now. Together, we will heal.

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