Keith Cox served the residents of Virginia Beach in the public utilities department for 12 years.
Well-liked by co-workers, he spent his final moments on Friday working to protect them from a gunman in the municipal center - sacrificing his life in the process.
The remembrance of Cox, published in The Pilot on Monday, is one of many heartbreaking stories to emerge from the darkness that still hangs over this community, four days after the worst mass shooting in the city’s history.
Attention should be paid to the criminal investigation being conducted by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. They are diving into the details of the shooter’s life, his movements prior to the attack and the possible motivation for this horrific act in the hope of gaining some insight into why and how this happened.
But for now, our focus should be on those precious lives cut short on Friday, celebrating their memory and paying tribute to their selflessness. They deserve no less from the community they served.
So let us remember Cox, the public utilities account clerk who was described as a jovial, caring co-worker and a talented singer in the choir at New Hope Baptist Church, where his father serves as pastor. As the shooter roamed the building, Cox ushered several employees into an office, telling them to lock the door while he looked for others to help.
Rich Nettleton spent 28 years working for the city as a utilities engineer. A Norfolk resident and Old Dominion University graduate, he was a lieutenant for the Army’s 130th Engineer Brigade in Germany, where he served with Beach City Manager Dave Hansen.
Joshua Hardy spent more than four years as an engineering technician, but loved ones remembered him as a devout Christian whose love for children led him to author “The ABC Book on Protecting Yourself from Strangers,” a book he self-published in 2011.
Missy Langer worked as an administrative assistant in the public utilities department for 12 years. Neighbors recalled her as a passionate Pittsburgh Steelers fan. She had a tough few years, long both her parents in the last five years, but was proud of the life she built in Virginia Beach.
Kate Nixon was an engineer with a decade of experience working for the city, whose love of her husband and three children was plainly evident to all who knew her.
Alex Gusev came to this country from Belarus in 2003 and was recalled by a colleague as “a model professional” who handled right-of-way issues for Virginia Beach. He was also a graduate of ODU who was quick to help friends and loved ones in need.
For most of her 24 years in Virginia Beach government, Mary Lou Gayle worked as a right-of-way agent who was recalled by neighbors for the upkeep and improvements made to her home, which was described as “gorgeous.” A parishioner at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church, Gayle was well thought of by all those in her orbit.
Tara Gallagher, a graduate of Portsmouth’s Woodrow Wilson High School, earned two engineering degrees from ODU before joining the city six years ago. LaQuita Brown, a Chesapeake resident, was a right-of-way agent for more than four years. Bert Snelling was a contractor visiting Building 2 for a permit when the shooting began.
Another ODU graduate, Chris Rapp, joined the city 11 months ago after serving as Stafford County’s public works director for two years. He was recalled for his love of bagpipes, which he played with Tidewater Pipes & Drums, and his devotion to family and friends.
And Bobby Williams, who joined the city in 1981, was repeatedly honored for his lengthy public service throughout his career. He was the type of employee who provides invaluable continuity and institutional memory to municipal government.
Stories about each of the victims are available to read. They have been told with respect, grace and sensitivity, honoring the memory of each life lost and the emotional toll on those left behind.
Hold them all in your hearts.