VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — For the first time since an employee killed and wounded more than a dozen people at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, those who survived the massacre were asked to weigh in on the city’s response.
“We are not OK. We are not OK,” said Rasheda Gregory, an employee in the Public Utilities department. “You know our lives are forever changed.”
Gregory was one of several who gave emotional testimonies Wednesday night about scars she and her co-workers have been left with since the May 31 shooting at Building 2. A public utilities employee killed 12 people and left 4 others injured, before being shot dead by police.
Members of the Virginia Beach City Council have expressed the need to gather input from employees before deciding how to move forward on several issues related to the tragedy, including the future use of Building 2, a permanent memorial and workplace gun policies.
Mayor Bobby Dyer, City Manager Dave Hansen, Council Members Sabrina Wooten, Barbara Henley, Rosemary Wilson and Michael Berlucchi along with other city department leaders sat in for the first of what have been called “listening sessions.”
Going back to work
“It pained me this year to tell my mother that I couldn’t go and watch fireworks with her as we did every year because fireworks sends me back to that room on May 31,” Gregory said. “We are not healed.”
Gregory and several other employees from her department expressed frustration in the rate in which they had to return to work.
“Honestly, I felt I wasn’t ready to come back to work,” said Daryll Johnson, a Public Utility Service supervisor. “On my way to work I have, I have one spot I throw up at every morning. But I go into the house, brush my teeth and I come to work because I don’t want to take my time. Because I want to be able to go on vacation with my son.”
City Council and management should have talked to employees long before now, according to Johnson.
“I get it, you guys have a large job and the media jumped on [the shooting] and it’s that type of thing … if we are going to have your back and you’re going to have our back, come to us. Come to us and have that conversation with us as well,” Johnson said.
Others said the demands of getting back to work have not allowed them time to go to the counseling services.
“I can’t get the help that I need, because I don’t have the time to do so,” an employee of the Public Utilities call center said.
Building 2 future
At Tuesday’s city council session, a new project was approved that would ultimately renovate Building 2 to become the future home of the Virginia Beach Police Department headquarters.
While several employees stood up in support of the idea. Others, including Virginia Beach Police Officer C.J. Loveless who responded to the shooting, did not.
“We are still human, and we suffer from PTSD related incidents every day,” Loveless said in front of the room. “It has been said numerous times that no one will have to enter that building if they didn’t want to. But if you make that building the new police headquarters, you’d be requiring every officer to enter that building on a regular basis.”
He said the remodel can’t erase memories.
“Nor will it allow to get rid of the eerie sounds of cell phones ringing over and over in that building,” Loveless said.
Loveless suggested tearing down Building 2 and replacing it with a memorial park.
“I understand the cost is extreme,” Loveless said.”But please don’t name it ‘531’.”
Yet Robin Stamper, who works in the 911 call center, supported the city manager’s current recommendation.
“I strongly believe the building should be renovated,” Stamper said. “We need to consider that our fiscal decisions encompass public funds.”
City Manager and Council response
City Manager Hansen attempted to address several of the concerns before people dismissed for the evening.
“I’m hearing loud and clear that those that are in the hybrid program are struggling with time to get there we will look at that immediately,” Hansen said, at the conclusion of the meeting. “This is not going to be an easy process. No where in the world do we ever train for something like this to happen?”
He assured that input would continue to be collected. On Monday, all city employees received a digital questionnaire in which they can respond anonymously.
“I certainly do not expect you to be healed or back to normal. For many of us it’s going to take a year if not years. It’s going to take time,” Hansen said.
Before Councilwoman Wooten, of the Centerville District, closed out the gathering with a prayer, she thanked all those who spoke up.
“I will take that information and review it and reflect on it….just sitting here I heard a lot of strength and bravery here,” Wooten said.
Following the meeting, Mayor Dyer explained the importance of continued communication
“Its a tough time for everybody…I think some good recommendations came out of here,” Dyer said. “This is the thing we have to address…we always got to try to improve an organizational culture. When you have a large organization like that there is always need for improvement. But we are going to work hard in that regard.”