VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach City Council has decided not to pursue a publicly-funded memorial to DeShayla Harris — a 28-year-old killed by a stray bullet last year — at the Oceanfront.
The resolution to create a DeShayla Harris memorial was voted down 9-2 during a meeting Tuesday night, with sponsor Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten and Councilman Aaron Rouse voting in support.
The idea for a publicly-funded memorial to Harris was first proposed by Wooten on behalf of Harris’ mother. The resolution would have set aside up to $10,000 to create a plaque and install it on city property at 19th Street and Atlantic Avenue.
Harris, a Norfolk native and former star on the “Bad Girls Club” reality TV show, was struck by what police said was a stray bullet on March 26, 2021 after gunfire rang out at the Oceanfront late that Friday night. Ten people in total were shot and an officer was hit by a car.
Harris was one of two killed; the other was 25-year-old Donovon Lynch, who was shot by a Virginia Beach police officer.
Wooten’s proposal was met with hesitancy from the start. A former police chief called it “problematic” because it singled out one innocent victim but didn’t recognize the hundreds over the years who have also died unnecessarily.
Wooten, however, called the memorial “precedent” and said the Oceanfront incident was a mass shooting, just like the one at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on May 31, 2019. A council-appointed committee is currently meeting to come up with a publicly-funded memorial to honor those victims.
Harris’ mother, Elisheba Harris, has been vocal about her desire for a public memorial to help with the grief of losing her daughter.
Ahead of the vote, Harris’ mother and more than half a dozen community activists spoke in support of the memorial idea.
In voting against it, Mayor Bobby Dyer suggested it would be better for a foundation to spearhead a memorial in memory of innocent victims.
“It’s tough for me to say it, but perhaps this is not the most practical thing for us to do at this time. I think when, as a city, when we make a decision like this, we set a precedent,” Dyer said.
Dyer also reinforced a proposal to create a DeShayla Harris 757 task force.
“Let’s show how the community can come together and find a better way,” Dyer said.
Wooten’s second motion to create a “gone too soon” memorial, which would honor all gun violence victims, didn’t even make it to a vote, as nobody seconded the motion.
Editor’s note, March 28, 2022: Since the original reporting of this story, Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate has said the information given during a meeting March 30, 2021 that nine people were shot and injured and two others were killed at the Oceanfront March 26 was not correct. WAVY confirmed with the chief that eight people were injured and two were killed.