Usually home to sold out VCU basketball games, there was a markedly different tone at the Stuart C. Siegel Center on Friday night as green, blue, white and brown uniforms speckled the crowd of people filing into auditorium seats.
Some clutched white roses, others stared solemnly ahead. A heavy, near-tangible silence filled the Rams’ home court as the audience waited silently — the thrum of electricity thrumming and camera equipment snapping into place the only interruptions.
A woman murmured silently, 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,” said Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones after the opening prayer of the vigil held for Virginia State Trooper Chad Dermyer, 37.
Law enforcement and emergency responders from across the city, commonwealth and country attended the April 1 vigil organized by Richmond United for Law Enforcement and United Communities Against Crime to honor Dermyer, who was fatally shot during a training exercise at the Richmond Greyhound Station on March 31.
Jones noted the sea of uniforms in the audience, and called it a visual 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.”
Major Lenmuel S. Terry spoke on behalf of the Virginia State Police Department, and thanked the many departments across the commonwealth who quickly came together to provide support during yesterday’s shooting that left Dermyer and the gunman dead and two civilians wounded.
Terry shared with the crowd a sentiment 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 Jackson, Mich. native, 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 during a training exercise at the Greyhound bus station. He leaves behind his wife and two young children.
During a press conference earlier at Virginia State Police headquarters in Chesterfield on Friday, Virginia State Police Colonel Steven Flaherty identified the gunman as James Brown, 34, of Chicago. Flaherty said Brown used a 40 caliber Beretta semiautomatic pistol when he shot Dermyer in the chest.
Two women a, 27-year-old from North Carolina and 21-year-old from New York, were also wounded in the ensuing shootout between Brown and Virginia State Police. Flaherty said Brown had 143 rounds of ammunition and two partially-loaded 30-round magazines left when he was arrested.
“We don’t know why he chose to assault a trooper,” Flaherty said. “Its very troubling that he would have a 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.”
Brown was traveling from Raleigh to Chicago via Richmond and Washington D.C. Flaherty said the gun Brown used was purchased by someone else 13 months ago in Georgia.
“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 referring to the “family” shared by the servicemen 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.”
Councilwoman 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 yesterday before the FBI and Homeland Security arrived.
“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.”
Senator Mark Warner also sent a representative to offer his prayers.