VIRGINIA BEACH — Nearly a month after 12 people were killed in a mass shooting on May 31, city offices closed or limited services to allow employees to attend a second memorial service Thursday.
City officials gathered with victims’ families and friends and community members for the service at the Veteran’s United Home Loan Amphitheater in remembrance of the victims — 11 of those killed were city employees.
While city spokeswoman Julie Hill said a second memorial was necessary because “we couldn’t fit all of our feelings into one service,” it also provided the opportunity for the victims’ families to publicly share a message.
Zuri Cannon is a new city employee who started working in the Parks and Recreation Department just two months ago and said even though she didn’t personally know the victims, hearing from the families was important.
“I think we had all been wanting to hear how the families have been doing but also respect their privacy,” she said. “This was a good outlet for them to be able to share stories about their loved ones and for me to hear about them as people and not just victims.”
Messages read by, or on behalf of, the families were the centerpiece of the service with attendees hearing stories about Laquita Brown’s warm smile and contagious laughter, Alex Gusev’s love for the beach, Joshua Hardy’s dislike for unrealistic movies, and so many more.
Keith Cox’s father and Baptist Pastor E. Ray Cox Sr. received a standing ovation after his sermon on hurt, healing, and faith.
“I’m not here because my son died,” he said. “I’m here because his co-workers lived.”
On May 31, a long-time city employee opened fire inside the building where he worked at the Municipal Center killing 12 people, and injuring four more.
Melanie Coffey was shot that day but sat in the audience Thursday as City Manager Dave Hansen read remarks thanking law enforcement and medical staff on her behalf.
“I was counting on them to get me out, and they did,” Hansen read.
Two videos were also shared during the service with one from famous music producer and Virginia Beach-native Pharrell Williams with a message for a “community that has been tested.”
The service started and ended with a procession of the victims’ families led by a band Chris Rapp played the bagpipe in, the Tidewater Pipes and Drums.
Tidewater piper Tom Metz said the band performs to provide a service to the community, but it’s also personal for them as he and Rapp would sit and practice together all the time.
“It’s not saying goodbye it’s saying we acknowledge you and appreciate what you were to our family and friends,” he said. “It’s tipping the hat one more time.”
Fire Department Battalion Chief Lorna Trent closed the service with a final message of “hope, caring, and coming together as a community.”