One Year Gone: Remembering The Virginia Beach Mass Shooting
- Written by Rebecca Feldhaus Adams
- Category: Local News
- Published: 25 May 2020
Last updated May 29 at 12:43 p.m.
On Friday, May 31, 2019, 12 people were murdered and four injured by a colleague in Building 2 at the Virginia Beach municipal complex. One police officer was also injured.
Ahead of the anniversary of the tragedy, WHRO Public Media is memorializing the lives lost, the reflections of those who survived and memories from the community still looking to heal.
Tara Welch Gallagher
Tara Welch Gallagher was a 39-year-old engineer for Virginia Beach Public Works when she was killed in the shooting.
Her greatest joy came from spending time with her family and nurturing her son, who was a toddler at the time of the shooting. At a memorial service last June, her family remembered she would have sacrificed anything for him.
Each day, she drove him from Virginia Beach to Portsmouth and then back to Virginia Beach so his grandparents could watch him while she and her husband were working. She felt the grandparents would take best care of him.
“She never complained about the long drives,” Virginia Beach firefighter Lorna Trent said for the family during the service. “There was no road too far, no traffic too heavy, no task too daunting, no detail too trivial for Tara when it came to her son.”
Her family also remembered her kindness and selflessness. They said she always treated everyone equally and put others first.
“Remember that time she made a difference in your day, in your career, in your life,” Trent said. “Keep her memory alive within you. Be kind to one another. Remember the example she set for us.”
Michelle "Missy" Langer
Michelle “Missy” Langer was an administrative assistant for the Virginia Beach Public Utilities Department. Two Virginia Beach police sergeants, Sean Langley and Jennifer Johannessen, were assigned to help Missy’s family and friends get through the sudden loss.
At a memorial service following the shooting, Sergeant Jennifer Johannesen spoke for family and friends. Missy was described as a protective sister and a great conversationalist who didn’t like to end a phone call. Kim Langer, Missy’s sister-in-law, said Missy would say “I love you” a hundred times at the end of a phone call.
Missy was 60 years old when she was killed in the shooting.
Missy was a member of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Virginia Beach. According to her best friend, Ruth Tilley, Missy loved Paul McCartney and was a big fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Fred Langer, Missy's brother, said she "always had a smile on her face that would light up a room."
Joshua O. "Dennis" Hardy
Joshua O. "Dennis" Hardy was one of six siblings. His twin sister, Denise, shared memories of her brother in a statement shared last summer at a memorial service.
"Josh is my twin, and we had our special bond," she wrote in her statement. "I’m five minutes older than him, because he kicked me out of my mother’s womb, because he wanted to have the place to himself!”
His oldest brother, Willie, remembered unending text message chains between the two of them. They enjoyed discussing interpretations of the Bible. The debates only ended when one decided it was time to go to sleep.
Hardy served as an engineering technician and worked for the city for four and a half years. He was 52 years old when he was killed.
His family shared the following Bible verse, saying it represented the God-fearing man that Hardy was.
"This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:12-13
Alexander Mikhail "Sasha" Gusev
Alexander Mikhail Gusev loved working to better his city. Guzev, called Sasha by his friends and family, worked for the city of Virginia Beach for nine years. He was a Right-of-Way Agent in the public works department.
"He loved it here," his sister-in-law wrote in a remembrance shared last summer. "The places he lived, where he worked, and where he studied. He made real friends there. He took joy in learning from the faculty. He loved the thought of becoming useful to his city."
Guzev was 35 years old when he was killed in the shooting.
Originally from Belarus, Gusev moved to to United States in 2003. He got a bachelors degree in science and business management from Old Dominion University. After he started working with the city, he was able to bring his mother to Virginia from Belarus.
His family said that he loved his colleagues.
"They built his beloved city. All of Sasha’s plans and ideas had to do with his life in Virginia"
Robert "Bobby" Williams
Bobby Williams was killed in the shooting. He was 72.
Williams lived in Hampton Roads most of his life. He attended high school and college in Norfolk and served in the Vietnam War.
His family remembers him as a dedicated “Pop-Pop” and the most “loving, extraordinary” husband.
In a statement shared a memorial service last year, his family wrote: “All he wanted from this life was time with us. Time to make memories. Time to travel together. Time to laugh. Time to share a meal and time to love these words shared today.”
Mary Lou Gayle
Mary Lou Gayle was killed in the shooting. She was 65.
Gayle was a dedicated mother and grandmother, her family wrote in her obituary. She made a gingerbread house for each of her extended family’s homes during the Christmas season.
Her grandchildren were a major source of joy for her, the family wrote.
“She took tremendous joy from teaching them, sharing new experiences with them, and just snuggling together. She was actively planning and very much looking forward to a trip to take them to Disney World for the first time,” they wrote.
Ryan "Keith" Cox
Ryan "Keith" Cox died in the shooting while protecting his coworkers. He was 50 years old.
Cox put himself in direct line of the shooter that day. That's the kind of person he was, his father Pastor Ray Cox, Sr. said at a memorial service last summer. The Cox family attends New Hope Baptist Church and Ray Cox is pastor there.
"My son died the way he lived. It was not unusual for him to be concerned and caring and helpful to others," Ray Cox said last summer. "He did what he did every single day, he was very much involved in human affairs."
He was dedicated to his church; his family noted in his obituary he enjoyed reading the Bible and was a member of the male choir at New Hope Baptist.
The city honored Keith Cox last year by renaming the post office closest to the Municipal Center after him.
Richard "Rich" Nettleton
Rick Nettleton, the son of Richard H. "Rich" Nettleton, remembers the time he went to a company picnic with his dad.
"He smiled and waved and said hello to everyone he saw," Rick Nettleton said in a family statement shared at a Memorial service last June.
"I now realize that we need more people in the world like him. That we should all strive to be more like the man he was.”
Rich Nettleton was killed in the shooting. He was 65 years old when he died.
Nettleton was a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Army in the 84th engineering battalion. After his military work, he joined the Virginia Beach city staff as a design and construction manager in public utilities. He loved mentoring younger engineers, according to his family's statement. He had a masters in engineering from University of New Hampshire, an MBA from Old Dominion University and he was pursuing a PhD, so he could teach in his retirement years.
He was proud of his Chinese heritage on his mother's side, and was a champion of the Minority Business Expo.
"He was our strong, steady presence during every family challenge," Sarah Nettleton said of her husband in a statement. "He provided me with a safe place to land and never complained.”
Richard and Sarah Nettleton were looking forward retirement, so they could grow old together -- walking at botanical gardens, day trips, visiting New Hampshire and continuing their love story that began 23 years ago.
“He was my rock, protector, best friend and the love of my life," Sarah wrote.
Herbert "Bert" Snelling
Herbert “Bert” Snelling was killed in the shooting. He was 57.
Snelling, a Virginia Beach contractor, was the only victim who was not a city employee. He was at the municipal building filing a permit at the time of the shooting.
In his obituary, his family said he loved to create with his hands — from building custom gates and hanging windows to constructing cabinets and houses.
He was also “genuinely humble and self-sacrificing” and had an infectious laugh.
“We will never forget that he not only found humour in every opportunity, he also helped others to find joy in all things. His unforgettable phrases, quotes and song lyrics were always a perfect fit for any and all situations,” the obituary reads.
Born in Norfolk, Snelling lived in Virginia Beach most of his life.
He is survived by his wife, Sonja, of 38 years, his parents, siblings and two children.
The light in LaQuita Brown's eyes is evident even from a grainy photograph. Her friends and family called her Quita.
"Quita had a warm smile and a contagious laugh that brightened everyone’s mood," her obituary reads. "She was admired and respected by all. The thoughtfulness and joy on her face will never be forgotten."
According to her obituary, she loved being around children. She would share her faith with anyone who would list.
A resident of Chesapeake, Brown worked for the city for four and a half years. She was a Right-Of-Way agent.
Brown was 39 years old when she was killed. But her strong faith underlines her belief in a life beyond the one she had on Earth.
Photo via Facebook. Kate Nixon (pictured) and Jason Nixon would have celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary this year.
The month of May has been hard on Jason Nixon and his daughters. When they lost Kate Nixon in the Virginia Beach mass shooting, they say they lost their rock.
Kate Nixon's eldest daughter, 14-year-old Morgan, has a lot of responsibility. For one thing, she has to make sure her father, Jason, knows what sizes clothing she and her sisters wear.
"You know, their mom used to go shopping for them all the time," Jason said. "But I'm learning."
According to 7-year-old Madilyn, dad does know how to buy video games. "Like, 10,000 of them," she said. She doesn't seem to mind.
The biggest responsibility Morgan, Madilyn, and Jason feel is making sure they have memories to share with the youngest daughter, Mackenzie, who is just 2 years old. They worry that she won't know what a special woman their mother was.
Morgan especially remembers the times they spent as a family at Disney world in California and Busch Gardens in Virginia. Madilyn treasured the arts and crafts her mom would do with her.
The girls chose their favorite t-shirts that belonged to their mother, and an extra collection for Mackenzie. The shirts will be made into quilts for each of them.
Jason's memories of Kate go back over 20 years. The most precious moments were the births of his daughters, but he also relishes the time when he and Kate were young, broke, and going to college together in California.
"The month of May has been probably the toughest we've had so far, with Mother's Day and everything else," Jason said. Mother's Day last year was the last holiday the family celebrated together. "And then a few weeks after that, all this happened."
To mark the anniversary, the family plans to visit the site of the shooting. They'll bring special rocks the girls painted, and Jason will bring Black Rifle Coffee--Kate's favorite brand. "And some tropical flowers—Kate liked tropical flowers. We're going to make our own little memorial," he said.
Christopher Rapp was killed in the shooting. He was 54.
A Virginia Beach native, Rapp was an engineer in the city’s public works department. He also played the bagpipes in the band, Tidewater Pipes and Drums.
Jeff Christman was one of Rapp’s bandmates. He called Rapp a kind and earnest gentleman, who loved the association with “all things Scottish.”
“If Mr. Rogers played the bagpipes, he would be very much like our friend Chris,” Christman said, referring to the popular television personality Fred Rogers. “In the year that’s gone by, his memory is not so far distant that I don’t think about him all the time.”
Tidewater Pipes and Drums memorialized Rapp and other victims by performing “Amazing Grace” at a memorial outside the municipal center soon after the shooting. They left his spot open in their formation where he would normally stand.
Because of the coronavirus outbreak and social distancing, the band isn’t performing outside the municipal center this May 31, Christman said. However, they’re putting together a video of an “Amazing Grace” performance that they will release by the anniversary.
“I’ve always believed that bagpipes are brave music for uncertain times,” Christman said. “Playing together this time of year is a celebration of his memory.”
Melanie Coffey was shot but survived. She still works for the city of Virginia Beach as a compliance officer.
"Growing up here I’ve always loved this city and hadn’t realized how truly connected our community is until this moment," Coffey wrote in the statement. "I do feel that it’s a miracle that I am still here today after being shot. I believe that there must be something else that I am still meant to do."
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WHRO Public Media wants to hear from you about how you’re marking the moment.
Do you have any other memories that you want to share? How has the shooting affected your experience in Hampton Roads over the past year?
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