Va. Beach commemorates mass shooting victims with vigil

The 12 victims of last week’s deadly shooting in Virginia Beach were honored Thursday at a vigil. Their names were LaQuita C. Brown, Ryan Keith Cox, Tara Welch Gallagher, Mary Lou Gayle, Alexander Mikhail Gusev, Joshua O. Hardy, Michelle “Missy” Langer, Richard “Rich” Nettleton, Katherine “Kate” Lusich Nixon, Christopher Kelly Rapp, Herbert “Bert” Snelling and Robert “Bobby” Williams. Photo by Gessler Santos-Lopez

Chip Lauterbach, Contributing Writer

Hannah Eason, News Editor

Herbert Snelling Sr. remembers his son as a good, hard-working man. Herbert “Bert” Snelling Jr. was one of 12 people who died in the Virginia Beach mass shooting last Friday. Wearing a blue T-shirt reading “Team Bert,” he searched for answers in the tragedy, relying on his faith to keep him strong.

Community members came together with the victims’ families Thursday night for “VB Remembers,” a memorial held at Rock Church in Virginia Beach. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was joined onstage by Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer, Vice Mayor Jim Wood, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria and Virginia Beach City Council members.

“Whatever steps he took in those moments, he knew the Lord,” Snelling Sr. said of his son. “If he had to do it all over again, I know he would not have changed a thing. It was unfortunate and unnecessary and only goes to show that we do have evil in this world.”

During the ceremony, each Virginia Beach City Council member announced the name of a victim, followed by a moment of silence.

“This turn of events has rocked our foundation, and there are no words to erase the anguish and deep sorrow that we feel,” Mayor Bobby Dyer said during the vigil. “Virginia Beach will not let an act of evil define who we are. We will be defined by the great people that live and work here.”

Choirs from multiple denominations performed at the vigil. Rick Kalinauskas, a trombonist who played alongside other musicians, said the shooting in his hometown was “absolutely terrible.”

Church choirs and other performers took the stage at Thursday’s vigil, which was held at Rock Church in Virginia Beach. Photo by Gessler Santos-Lopez

“It makes you think about mental health,” Kalinauskas said. “There are ways we can express and communicate, and hopefully get the help we need, to avoid situations like this.”

Virginia Beach resident Rochelle Kenney said that while the vigil was sad, the songs and speeches were uplifting. She wore yellow and black in honor of one of the victims, Michelle “Missy” Langer, who Kenney said was a Steelers fan.

“For it to literally happen in my backyard, it was devastating,” said Kenney, who lives only 10 minutes from the site of the shooting. “It could’ve happened to anybody.”

Virginia Beach native and VCU senior Daniel Webster spoke bluntly about his concerns with gun violence in the aftermath of the shooting.

“What upsets me is no matter how many shootings occur, there is absolutely no changes in policy, no laws proposed to tighten gun control, no steps taken to pay any attention to mental health,” Webster said. “It’s a slap in the face.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced Friday he sent Northam a letter asking that cities be given the power to ban guns from parks and city municipal buildings. The shooting in Virginia Beach took place at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.

Stoney also asked the governor to propose legislation to expand prohibitions on assault rifles and guns with high-capacity magazines.

On Tuesday, Northam announced a special session of the General Assembly to consider proposals to change the state’s gun laws. Among Northam’s suggestions are the introduction of universal background checks and high-risk protection orders, or a “red flag law,” which would allow authorities to seize weapons from someone deemed a threat without evidence or due process. The governor also suggested banning semi-automatic rifles and suppressors. The session is expected to start July 9.

“We can help by taking care of each other,” Northam said during the vigil. “We can hold on to the love this community has shown.”

The shooter used two .45 caliber pistols, one with a sound suppressor. All items had been purchased legally, according to local police.

The Virginia Beach shooting wasn’t the first to affect Suffolk resident Susan Vick; her nephew was on Virginia Tech’s campus during the mass shooting that killed 33 people in 2007.

“There should be something done about these mass shootings, especially suppressors and extended magazines,” Vick said.

Earl Craig, a retired Marine Corps veteran who has lived in Virginia Beach for 30 years, said some gun reform is necessary and he was pleased to see his community show love and unity.

“This was a senseless tragedy. It’s a terrible thing to have happened, but the community has really shown its strength,” Craig said. “Obviously, these longer magazines need to be regulated, and something needs to be done about suppressors.”

Gary Hubbard, who is running for Virginia Beach City Council in the Rose Hall district this November, said the Governor’s proposals are too little too late.

“It seems like these politicians only come out when a tragedy occurs. Do we need effective gun control? Yes. But there was no law that could have stopped this from happening,” Hubbard said. “[The shooter] bought the weapons legally, he went through the background checks.”

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