On a recent morning, the staccato sounds of construction filled the Virginia Beach Municipal Center where a new City Hall building is taking shape. Beside it, work continued on the rehabilitation of Building 2, the structure enclosed within fences and orange barriers as laborers tended to their tasks.
To passersby, the site looks like any other large-scale construction effort. The scene did not betray the reasons behind the work or speak to the tragedy which unfolded there two years ago.
The people of Hampton Roads know and will this weekend pause to remember the family members, friends and coworkers lost to violence we still do not understand and who deserve an investigation free from conflicts of interest.
For many in Hampton Roads, the Memorial Day weekend will be spent marking the traditional start to summer, gathering with family and friends missed during the pandemic, and paying solemn tribute to our nation’s fallen, whom the occasion honors.
That Memorial Day coincides with the two-year anniversary of the municipal center shooting means that, for some in our community, the weekend will be one of loss, grief and remembrance of civilian lives senselessly cut short.
The distance has made this more difficult. Certainly on the one-year anniversary, the desire for people to gather together — to remember, to mourn — was powerful and undeniable. There is strength in community and goodness knows the victims’ families and survivors could use that.
They could also use our support and advocacy for a thorough, independent review of what led a Public Utilities engineer to open fire on his coworkers in Building 2, killing 12 and injuring four before he died in an exchange of gunfire with responding law enforcement.
The city’s review, released in March, helps provide some of those details, about the incident, the shooters’ movements and the rapid response of police officers, one of whom was shot in his bullet-resistant vest while engaged with the suspect.
But the community does not know the circumstances that prompted the violence, why the shooter resigned his position one morning and launched his attack that afternoon. It’s possible that we will never know — that the motivations and rationale, such as it is, for those actions went to the grave with him two years ago.
Family members of those lost worked with lawmakers to create a state commission charged with conducting an investigation, noting that the reports into the May 31 shooting were either conducted or commissioned by the city.
However, membership of that commission is already the subject of questions. Several of the people appointed to serve are former employees of the city or the law enforcement agencies that responded to the violence.
It is important the body examining this tragedy speak to those who know the community, the institutions and the landscape best. But they should not be charged with conducting the investigation itself, not if the conclusions are to enjoy the confidence of the public.
However, this weekend should be focused on remembrance. This week saw the installation of “Points of Reflection” memorials near 24th Street at the Oceanfront, on the side of Mount Trashmore and at the municipal center, near Building 15 due to the construction.
People were encouraged to wear blue on Friday and to pause at 4:06 p.m., time of the first 911 call, for a minute of prayer or contemplation. The city also encouraged people to take in the sunrise on Monday morning, the anniversary date, which is always a reflective moment in our coastal region.
On Monday morning, the city will post a remembrance video. Since changes to pandemic protocols were announced recently, officials could not organize an in-person event, though the expectation is that this will be the last year of virtual anniversary memorials.
Pause to remember. Pause to reflect. Pause to celebrate their memories. Then work to provide the victims, the survivors and their loved ones the investigation they deserve.