VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Thousands of community members of all faiths and backgrounds united Thursday night to honor the victims of last Friday’s mass shooting.
The Rock Church was packed for “VB Remembers” with mourners looking for a shoulder to lean on, just less than a week after 12 people were fatally shot at the city’s Municipal Center.
Governor Ralph Northam, Representative Elaine Luria and Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine were there.
VIDEO: Full ‘VB Remembers’ Service
It was an emotional service with lots of tears shed for the victims.
“We’ve gathered here tonight because one way or another we’ve all been affected by the tragedy from last Friday,” said Dr. Veronica Coleman, of New Jerusalem Ministries.
Music played as family of the 12 victims were seated inside the church.
The ceremony included an orchestra and multiple singers. The Stallings followed welcoming remarks by the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Gordon Robertson with “Amazing Grace.”
Governor Ralph Northam took the podium to acknowledge the loss felt by the community.
“We grieve with this community. We grieve with the coworkers who hid in offices fearing for their lives and must go back to work and see an empty desk,” he said.
Northam, who responded to Virginia Beach in the hours following the shooting, said the community can help by continuing to care for those affected not just in the immediate future, but in the months and years ahead.
He said the love and kindness displayed in the aftermath of Friday’s shooting “should give us hope that tomorrow will find our Commonwealth a more peaceful, inclusive and united community.”
Prayers went up for healing and songs offered comfort for the grieving.
11 city workers and a contractor were among the 12 killed in the shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. The employees killed had served the city for more than 150 years combined.
One by one, council members read the names of the fallen and displayed their photos.
The biggest applause of the night came when Vice Mayor Jim Wood thanked the city employees for their response to the shooting, particularly the police officers who rushed to the sound of gunfire.
Church leaders from various faiths spoke of remembrance. Speakers included Dr. Veronica Coleman of New Jerusalem Ministries, Cantor Jennifer Rueben of Ohef Sholom Temple, Imam Rachid Khoulid of Crescent Community Center, Pamela Tanner of Great Bridge Baptist Church, Deacon Gary Harmeyer of the Church of the Holy Apostles and Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg of Ohef Sholom Temple.
“Although they may be gone, their lasting effect lives on in you,” said Harmeyer.
They also spoke words of hope for the future
“When tomorrow comes the clouds won’t be as dark as they were today,” Dr. Coleman said. “We are here tonight to reassure that trouble does not last always.”
City leaders said Virginia Beach has joined a club it never wanted to be part of. Mayor Bobby Dyer praised first responders.
“We are a city of heroes,” Dyer said. “The response by our city leaders, management, staff and volunteers was not only professional, but it involved a great deal of sympathy and compassion,” he said.
Although the road ahead seems long, leaders say the community is resilient.
“We will prevail as a stronger, more united and better community,” said Vice-Mayor James Woods. “This has changed us. We will not let it define us. We are Virginia Beach.”
Councilmembers Jessica Abbott and Michael Berlucchi were instrumental in organizing and planning the event. They both told WAVY.com doing this was a way they could feel useful in this time of tragedy. “We knew this was a way that we could be useful, we could contribute to helping to uplift our city and really the community at large at a very difficult moment,” Berlucchi said.
Abbott said, “We are a strong community and a loving community and we’re just proud of who we are and we’re going to be there for each other.”
The gathering was one of many vigils and remembrance ceremonies that have been held or scheduled since Friday. See a full list of events at this link.
On the Peninsula, the Hampton NAACP hosted a prayer vigil at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Bethel AME Church on Lincoln Street.
Those who couldn’t attend “VB Remembers” can go to a memorial walk scheduled for Saturday, June 8, at 10 a.m. near Mt. Trashmore.