VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) — Sergeant Mark Laino said that being recognized with a rare award in front of his family, friends and collages was “deeply honoring,” but at the same time “none of us wanted to be here,” he said.
Laino is one of the four Virginia Beach Police officers awarded the Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery for their actions during the May 31, 2019, mass shooting at the city’s municipal center.
Laino, along with Sergeant Peter Koepp, Jr., Officer Christopher Watkins, and Officer Bobby Meis, were the first to enter building 2 as public utilities engineer DeWayne Craddock went on his deadly rampage that left 12 people dead and four others seriously injured.
Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle said in his May 2021 report that the officers “potentially saved the lives of numerous individuals by finding, confronting and eventually stopping” the gunman.
The officers took heavy gunfire when they confronted the gunman on the second floor. Koepp was struck in the stomach, but was wearing a ballistic vest and wasn’t seriously injured. The gunman was shot several times and later died.
Friday, Raj Parekh, acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, joined Mayor Bobby Dyer, Sen. Mark Warner, (D-Virginia) and Rep. Elaine Luria, (D-Norfolk) were at the Sandler Center to officially present the medals.
Created by Congress in 2008 to honor acts of bravery performed by federal, state, and local law enforcement officers, only 204 others have been given out across the country.
“What all of them have in common is the willingness to act divisively and selflessly in the face of great personal peril,” Parekh said.
The crowd gathered rose to their feat as each officer was given their medal. Among those in attendance were Dave Hansen and Jim Cervera, the city manager and police chief in place at the time of the shooting.
The four men have more than 90 years of policing under their belt. While they all did know of each other before the shooting, when they entered from four different doors that fateful Friday, they had never worked with each other before.
“You know of all the training we do, it’s always constant and consistent and it all just kind of worked and we knew what each other would do during that situation,” Meis said.
Several who spoke called them “hero’s.” However, it’s a title the men all said they don’t want.
“Still a tragic day that changed our community forever,” Koepp said. “Yeah, I think about it everyday.”
Several of the officers said the victims remain on their minds.
“If we could take these medals away and bring all those victims back we would in a heartbeat,” Meis said.
Correction: A previous copy of this story misidentified two of the officers. The copy has been corrected. WAVY regrets the error.