Usually home to sold-out Virginia Commonwealth University basketball games, there was a markedly different tone at the Stuart C. Siegel Center on Friday night. As students filled Broad Street eager to start their weekend, green, blue, white and brown uniforms speckled the crowd of people filing into the auditorium’s seats.
Some clutched white roses; others stared solemnly ahead. A heavy, near-tangible silence filled the Rams’ home court as the audience waited – the thrum of electricity and camera equipment snapping into place the only interrupting sounds.
A woman murmured to herself quietly, her finger chasing words across a page of scripture. A few rows behind her, a man squinted his eyes shut – a drop of moisture glistening on his cheek under the florescent lights.
“We are here tonight to honor the life and service of Chad Dermyer, and I thank God for his selfless sacrifice,” Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones said after the opening prayer of the vigil held for the 37-year-old state trooper who was killed Thursday in the line of duty.
Law enforcement and emergency responders from across the city, commonwealth and country attended the vigil organized by Richmond United for Law Enforcement and United Communities Against Crime to honor Dermyer, who was fatally shot by a gunman during a training exercise at the Richmond Greyhound station.
Jones, who is also the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of South Richmond, noted the sea of uniforms in the audience. He called it a snapshot of “how much we depend on those who have sworn to protect and serve.”
“There is a time to talk about policy, but tonight is not that night,” Jones said. “There is a time to talk about mental health, transportation security, guns – and who should, and should not, have them, but tonight is not that night.”
Maj. Lenmuel S. Terry spoke on behalf of the Virginia State Police. He thanked the many departments across the commonwealth that mobilized to provide support during Thursday’s shooting, which left Dermyer and the gunman dead and two civilians wounded.
Terry shared with the crowd a sentiment that he heard years ago at a funeral and said he holds dear.
“Everyone has a date marking the day they were born, and the day they passed away,” Terry said. “What’s not important is the dates on the beginning or end of the dash – but what might be written on that dash. I can’t say enough about all the great things Chad’s done – that could be written on that dash.”
Dermyer, a native of Jackson, Mich., graduated from the Virginia State Police academy in November 2014. He served the Chesapeake Division Area 46 Office and had recently been transferred to the Counter-Terrorism Interdiction unit. He previously served four years with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Dermyer died in State Police uniform on Thursday afternoon after being shot in the chest multiple times at the Greyhound bus station. He leaves behind his wife and two young children.
“I remember Lt. Dermyer when he was working as a VA Police with the US Dept of Veterans Affairs. He was an intelligent young man with a kind heart. He was a natural,” reads a reflection post by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Police Chief Robyn M. Hardy on Dermyer’s Officer Down Memorial Page.
“The entire law enforcement community has lost not only a brother but someone who cared about his job. My heartfelt condolences to his family and the Virginia State Police. RIP brother!”
Representatives from police departments in the area and across the nation also shared their thoughts and condolences at Friday’s vigil. Many referred to the “family” shared by the men and women who put on a uniform to go to work each morning.
“Greetings from law enforcement in the state of Alabama. My father and brother are law enforcement in Texas,” said a man in uniform who took to the podium at Friday’s vigil. “That thin, blue line runs long and deep all across our nation,” he said to thunderous applause.
Another officer introduced herself as Mindy, a trooper from Illinois.
“The thin blue line does run thick and deep,” she said. “I lost a classmate years ago – and I still call his family every birthday and Christmas. It’s important – it’s our job – to do that and always remember his family.”
Richmond City Council Member Reeva Trammell also offered condolences on behalf of herself and her colleagues. She also commended the local police units, including the Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield police, for assisting the State Police on Thursday before the FBI and Homeland Security arrived.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia also sent a representative to offer his prayers.
Richmond’s mayor said Dermyer’s death underscores the dangers faced by police officers.
“Many of us get up in the morning with the expectation we will return to our families at the end of each day,” Jones said. “When I look around this room, I see so many people who kiss their children in the morning, and do not know if they’ll return home at the end of the day.”
At a press conference earlier Friday, Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, discussed the slain trooper and the shooting incident.
The State Police are accepting donations for the Dermyer family emergency relief fund, Flaherty said at the agency’s headquarters in Chesterfield.
James Brown, 34, of Chicago was identified as the shooter. His weapon was a 40-caliber Beretta semiautomatic pistol, officials said. Brown had 143 rounds of ammunition left, including two 30-round magazines partially loaded, when he was killed by troopers returning fire, authorities said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Flaherty said. “I’m concerned that he is able to obtain a gun. We know that gun was bought a little over a year. It was not bought by Brown.”
Flaherty said the State Police are working with the ATF to determine how Brown acquired the gun.
“It’s very troubling that he was out having a history that he has, that he is able to travel on a bus line. We don’t know why he chose to assault a trooper,” Flaherty said.
Brown was traveling from Raleigh, N.C., to Chicago via Richmond and Washington, D.C. No drugs have been discovered in connection with the shooting.
Two women – a 27-year-old from North Carolina and 21-year-old from New York – were also wounded in the incident.
Executive Editor, Sarah King
Sarah is a junior studying political science and philosophy of law. She is a copyeditor for INK Magazine and reporter for the Capital News Service wire. Last spring, Sarah worked as an editorial intern for Congressional Quarterly Researcher and SAGE Business Researcher in Washington, D.C. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn