Monday, March 4, 2024

May 31 shooting aftermath: Surviving victims have spoken

The mass shooting happened in Building 2, May 31, 2019. (Southside Daily/Melanie Occhiuzzo)
The mass shooting happened in Building 2, May 31, 2019. (Southside Daily/Melanie Occhiuzzo)

VIRGINIA BEACH — In what’s been reported as an “illegal meeting” on July 10, city employees got the opportunity to tell city government leaders what life for them has been like since May 31.

The public was not notified of the meeting where five City Council members were in attendance – which made it a public meeting.

City governments must notify the public of the date, time and location of meetings where more than two council members attend. The notification must be posted on the city’s website, at the clerk’s office and in a prominent public location where notices are regularly posted, according to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

In his Friday package to City Council, City Manager Dave Hansen summed up what 15 employees have been living with day-to-day — and, they said, they’re “not okay.”

According to the notes, Daryll Johnson, who works in the Public Utilities Department, said he gets sick every morning before coming to work.

Rasheda Gregory, another public utilities employee, said she wakes up several times to make sure her doors are locked, gets little sleep, her stomach hurts, and she couldn’t watch fireworks on the Fourth of July “because it takes me back to May 31.”

According to a spokeswoman for the city, more than half a dozen city agencies responded to provide initial and ongoing counseling services for city employees and victims’ families after the tragedy, but some employees said there’s limited access.

Tara MaGee, a public utilities employee said “counselors only there two days a week.” 

“I would never feel safe,” she said.

Brent Werlein, a public utilities engineer, echoed Christine Smith’s “using personal time for appointments” — Werlein said, “find another way for employees to get help without using personal leave.”  

Tionna Thomas shared the same sentiment — “(must) use personal time for appointment — do not have time to get help.”

Topics in Hansen’s notes also included employees’ stance on the same “gun policy” that took center stage at City Council’s formal June 18 meeting.

RELATED STORY: City Council: ‘Emotions are too raw’ to support bill allowing localities to ban guns in govt. buildings

And, employees including Charles Loveless, Virginia Beach Police officer, voiced their opinions about the idea of renovating Building 2 for a police headquarters with a new name in memory of the shooting’s date — Building 531.

According to the notes, Loveless was one of the officers who went into Building 2 on May 31 to search for victims and provide aid, “stairwells are what we had to go up and down,” he said.

Loveless said police suffer from PTSD and “memories of cell phones ringing and visions of victims” — “tear down the building.”

Some employees like Gregory noted civilian city employees don’t have any training nor can they expect to encounter an event this tragic.

“I did not sign up for this when I filled out the application,” she said.

Related Story: Virginia Beach mass shooting aftermath: Here’s what city officials talked about regarding Building 2

Notes from Thomas seemed to underline how the wellness of the city’s employees affects the entire community reading: “can’t give to customers if we don’t have it to give,” and “we are the reason why Virginia Beach is thriving.”

To read the City Manager’s note to City Council and summary of the July 10 meeting, click here.

For more information on how to volunteer help for the victims and survivors of the Virginia Beach mass shooting, click here. 

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