VIRGINIA BEACH — One by one their names were read aloud. But not their formal names; their more familiar names, the ones you use with someone you’ve gotten to know. Bobby. Rich. Missy. Keith. Bert.
Formality wasn’t necessary for a grieving city that has treasured the memories of the 12 people who were killed in a mass shooting at a municipal complex last week.
The thousands at Rock Church stood in silence, listening to the names — with the quiet broken, at the end, by the agonized wail of a woman amid the victims’ families.
“Oh my God,” she sobbed.
Thursday night’s service was the largest of a series of memorials to those killed in last Friday afternoon’s shooting. State and local politicians, including Gov. Ralph Northam (D), Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and a host of faith leaders spoke to the assembled, offering messages of healing and unity for a city reeling from the devastating loss of life.
“Amid the horrors created by one person, we saw the good of so many others,” Northam said. “Over the past several days, we have seen great kindness and love in this community.”
In his remarks, Mayor Bobby Dyer called Virginia Beach a city of heroes.
“We are united in sadness but we go forward with positivity and love,” he said. “We are resilient and we are people of resolve. We will not let an act of evil define who we are.”
Authorities said DeWayne Craddock, 40, killed one person outside Building 2, which houses public works, then walked inside and killed 11 more using two .45-caliber pistols in the largest mass shooting in the country this year.
A sound suppressor, or silencer, was found at the scene, as well as extended magazines for the weapons, police have said. Craddock died in a gunfight with police.
Those killed were Virginia Beach residents Michelle “Missy” Langer, Ryan Keith Cox, Tara Welch Gallagher, Mary Louise Gayle, Alexander Mikhail Gusev, Katherine A. Nixon, Joshua O. Hardy and Herbert “Bert” Snelling; Chesapeake residents Laquita C. Brown and Robert “Bobby” Williams; Norfolk resident Richard H. Nettleton; and Powhatan resident Christopher Kelly Rapp.
Heavy rain poured on attendees as they somberly filed into the sanctuary, where some wore blue in solidarity. Each was handed a pale-blue wristband that carried a simple message: VB Strong #LoveForVB.
Inside the church sanctuary — about a 20-minute drive from the municipal complex — ushers handed out a spare program that listed the names of the 12 who were killed, along with an attached tab for those in attendance to write a few words of their own to add to the memorial.
The service featured ecumenical sermons and scripture; songs were sung by cantors and choirs from a variety of faith communities throughout the Virginia Beach area.
The room burst with applause after Veronica Coleman, pastor of New Jerusalem Ministries of Virginia Beach, reminded the crowd, “We are here tonight to reassure you that trouble does not last always.”
The Rev. Anthony Hart arrived at Rock Church looking for a message of hope. A week ago, he was picking up his son from school, just two blocks from the shooting site when he saw dozens of police cars race past him.
Hart, who ministers to churches in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, knew the procession was a terrible sign. On Thursday night, he looked to his neighbors for renewal.
“If there was ever a time for helping unity, now is that time,” he said.
After the service, Jimmy Hillegass, who attended with his wife, Becky, said the gathering was an example of “genuine Southern love, a never-ending faith and love of community.”
He said he was driven to attend — as a real estate agent, he said, he goes into that municipal building all the time.
Becky Hillegass, who works for the Virginia Beach public school system, said it was vital to support the grieving families.
“I think it was good to be present with the families who are suffering to show that physical support,” she said. “You could feel it. It was a heavy but beautiful feeling in there.”