VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Virginia Beach is moving forward with plans to memorialize the May 31 mass shooting while still adhering to COVID-19 required social distancing.
In an email sent to all city employees last week, Acting City Manager Tom Leahy announced that the weekend of May 29-31, 2020 will be focused on remembering the victims of the mass shooting while also supporting the families and community still devastated.
It will mark a year since a city engineer shot and killed 12 people and seriously hurt four others before being killed by police at Building 2 at the city’s Municipal Center.
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“As I am sure you can imagine, the COVID-19 pandemic nullified our original plans,” Leahy wrote. “Now, instead of the in-person ceremony and other remembrance activities that were designed to bring people out and together, we have had to find other meaningful ways to honor the victims, survivors, and their loved ones while separated and at a distance.”
The theme of the weekend has been dubbed “Lighting the Path: Together We Remember.” City spokeswoman Julie Hill explained that everything planned has been done with input from Building 2 employees, victims’ family members and in one case, one of the four who were shot and survived.
On Friday, May 29 displays featuring the Forget-Me-Not flower — a five-petaled, blue and yellow plant also known as myosotis scorpioides — will be placed around Building 2. There will also be arrangements in a location at the Municipal Center not in the sightlines of the building.
Departments formerly in Building 2 will be closing at 2 p.m. that day in order to “allow employees to memorialize the afternoon in the way they think most appropriate.” A moment of silence will also be held.
A special light display will come on at night and the displays and lights will remain through Sunday, May 31.
Likewise, the community is asked to get involved by wearing blue, lighting up buildings and homes with blue or white lights, and displaying specially-designed forget-me-not arrangements on doors and windows.
On Sunday, May 31, the city will host a virtual ceremony beginning at 4 p.m., around the time the shooting started the year prior.
“We have really tried to translate as many of those moments to something that … keeps people socially distant and doesn’t compel people to come out, but still something that gives people the opportunity to remember and reflect,” Hill said.
Hill mentioned that more details are still to come, including an announcement that will be made at the ceremony about a more permanent way to honor the 12 lives.
“A one-year memorial or a one time a year … may not be sufficient for what we want to do,” Hill said, “So we are creating something else that we hope will have a lasting impact.”
The VB Strong Center is also developing virtual programs for the month of May that will provide information, education and support for those affected most by the tragedy, according to Leahy. Program topics include: Helping Children Cope with a Trauma Anniversary, Coping with Trauma Anniversaries in the Remote Workplace, and Understanding Resiliency.
Though the pandemic prohibits the remembrance gatherings from occurring physically together, Hill hopes the aura of unity is rekindled.
“That’s the sense of community that 5/31 did foster afterward, and we hope we will be able to capture some of that,” she said.
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