• Spotlight News Hampton Roads

Virginia Beach Strong

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Words by Rebecca Edwards. Images as credited. Featured image courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach.



Unexpected loss. It leaves a hole that is ragged and torn in the heart of those that experience the loss. It leaves more unanswered questions than answers. It can bring a community together through grief that seems unending. May 31, 2019 was a day of unexpected loss for the city of Virginia Beach.

Memorial crosses in a line.

Image courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach

I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t been touched by the tragedy at Building 2 on May 31, 2019. You know someone who worked in the building, or you graduated high school with the loved one who lost someone in the tragedy, or perhaps you know someone who worked with someone who dated the child of someone who is neighbors with someone who is gone. No matter the connection, everyone has been touched by the events of that fateful afternoon.


A few weeks ago I volunteered to write this article for my editor. I have a personal connection to people who are a part of the Building 2 Family. At the time, I felt because of these connections it would be an easy assignment. I thought I would be able to sit with these people and have a conversation of how things have changed since that day and what honoring the victims looks like in the future. I emphasized this wasn’t about reflecting on that day, but looking forward to healing and honoring the victims. Each person I approached lovingly declined to speak with me. I understood and asked if they could reach out to others and ask if they would be willing to speak with me and again, my request was declined by those other people. I asked my friends on Facebook a couple of times if they could put me in touch with ANYONE willing to talk with me, and all I had was an empty inbox and no comments on my pleas. I began to panic. This was my first opportunity to really dig into an article and not write a personal opinion or an anecdote. I was excited for the opportunity to grow. I wanted to look to the future with love and hope, and not focus on the past. I wanted to share stories from people personally affected. Instead, grief has determined I will honor these people in the only way I know how… my words.

Image courtesy of Rebecca Edwards.

May 31, 2019 was a day like any other day for most people. No one expected a life-changing event. No one expected our coastal community to become a statistic. No one expected tragedy or final goodbyes to be said. Since that day, there are still many unanswered questions and painful memories. There is also healing and love from a community that has come together in darkness and grown from the shadows.


When I approached Anna Cleveland about possibly sitting down with me to talk about how things have changed since the tragedy and what future memorials would look like to her, she lovingly declined, but offered to share some of her personal pictures that were significant to her. As she sent a picture, she would include a little blurb describing what the image was and what it meant to her. Her final picture was of a group of gingerbread houses.

Gingerbread houses displayed on the end of a counter.

Image courtesy of Anna Cleveland.

She shared the following, “Mary Lou and LaQuita worked in the City Attys real estate department for years before moving over to the City Real Estate department. I worked with them and went over in December to make gingerbread houses in their honor. Every year, ML would make homemade gingerbread pieces for her family. It was our way to remember her over the holiday. We have plans to do this every year together. I guess there is your interview. Lol”


Through the “Lol” I could feel the weight of her loss. I knew she was sharing something intimate and it was just what I was looking for to include in this story. A personal journey with intent to continue a new tradition to honor friends and loved ones who are no longer here to celebrate.


She shared a picture of a sandcastle at The Neptune Festival that stood to remind us that we are strong.

A sandcastle that reads "City of Virginia Beach Strong. In Remembrance.

Image courtesy of Anna Cleveland.

A painted rock garden has sprouted near the municipal center for people to leave tiny remembrances or take a memento as a physical reminder of the love of the community.

Painted rocks and tiles displayed around the base of a tree.

Image courtesy of Anna Cleveland.

I admire her strength and bravery as she continues to face each day and I’m grateful for all that she has shared.

I continued to search for ways to share more stories. I heard from a friend that Brandon Stokes organized a drive by parade for Jason Nixon and his girls. I heard from another person that her church shared a lovely ceremony that was simple and solemn.


My research led me to discover that the city had plans made and events created to honor this somber anniversary, but the pandemic caused all of them to be cancelled or switched to a virtual event to maintain social distancing. In the time leading up to the anniversary, the city rolled out the key piece of their theme: the blue forget-me-not.


The thought and symbolism in this image is astounding. All flowers have a meaning. Red roses mean I love you, yellow roses are for friendship, and the forget-me-not is a flower typically symbolizing love and remembrance. Instead of using a traditional image of the forget-me-not, this one has been customized for our community. The twelve outer, blue petals have been shaped and chosen to represent those who were lost on 5/31/2019. The four inner white petals serve to remember those who were seriously injured during the event. The blue center dot is there to honor the police officer shot in the line of duty and saved by his vest. The gold outline is there to represent the community who has come together in solidarity and support through all of the winding paths that have emerged from this event.


The side of Mt. Trashmore was used as a canvas to share the visual piece featured at the top of this article.

On Friday, May 29, 2020 at 4:06pm a moment of silence and ceremony were held at Municipal Building 2. Wreaths were placed to honor the fallen and the forget-me-not was prominent.

Wreaths outside the VB government building.

Image courtesy of Laura Vaught Romeo

Ultimately, the governor declared May 31st to be recognized as Virginia Beach Remembrance Day. Going forward the city is looking to honor the victims through acts of volunteering. A common theme among the group was giving back to the community. The city is tracking the hours and hope to share progress reports each year on the anniversary showing that the memories and love of these people will always be a part of our community. They were beacons in our community. Use their light to strengthen our hope. Remind the world we are #VBStrong.

VB government building with blue lights for the memorial.

Image courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach

We remember and honor the victims: Alexander Mikhail Gusev Christopher Kelly Rapp Herbert “Bert” Snelling Joshua O. Hardy Katherine A. Lusich Nixon LaQuita C. Brown Mary Louise “Mary Lou” Crutsinger Gayle Michelle “Missy” Langer Richard H. Nettleton Tara Welch Gallagher Robert “Bobby” Williams


Unexpected loss tore a community apart. A year later you can see the growth, but the weight of grief still is a burden carried by many. Grief is different for everyone. There is not a right or wrong way to grieve. For some it’s about the pain of loss, for others it includes the realization of the near proximity of loss, and for a few it even includes survivor’s guilt. Recovery will depend on each person. According to the website www.loveforvb.com, resources are available through the VB Strong Center in partnership with Sentara. The VBSC is designed to be a hub of support and resources for all anyone directly or indirectly impacted by the shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. It is a no-cost central “starting point” for the journey of healing; as individuals…as neighbors…as a community. All of the programs and services offered by the VBSC team are NO COST and include but are not limited to:

  1. Family resources

  2. Mental health counseling

  3. Support groups

  4. Victim resources

  5. Alternative therapies such as yoga, Zumba, art activities and much more

  6. Financial and legal resources or referrals

For more information about the VB Strong Center, please visit thevbstrongcenter.org, give them a call at 757-507-7200, email to vbstrongcenter@sentara.com​ or visit them at 3388 Princess Anne Road, Suite 2001, Virginia Beach, VA 23456.

#VirginiaBeachStrong

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