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Lynch, Harris families continue to ask questions a year after fatal shootings in Virginia Beach

Photo by Paul Bibeau. Virginia Beach City Council Member Sabrina Wooten hugs Elisheba Harris, whose daughter Deshayla Harris was fatally shot last year at the Oceanfront.
Photo by Paul Bibeau. Virginia Beach City Council Member Sabrina Wooten hugs Elisheba Harris, whose daughter Deshayla Harris was fatally shot last year at the Oceanfront.

A crowd of a few dozen braved a windy March night to mark a date that took the lives of two people last year.

“My son was an American,” Wayne Lynch said. “Born and raised here with all the rights given to a United States citizen. And his rights were violated to the maximum.”

Wayne Lynch is the father of Donovon Lynch, who was fatally shot by a police officer during a chaotic night that saw 10 people struck by gunfire in three separate incidents. 

Family members of the victims, along with community activists and leaders, gathered near the site of the deaths to mark the one year anniversary of the violence.

Deshayla Harris was the other person fatally shot March 26. Her mother, Elisheba Harris, is still looking for answers.

“I know the community knows something,” she said. “You know, no one wants to speak up. But if it hits your doorstep, you will be standing right here doing the same thing.”

Authorities and people in the community are still at odds over what exactly happened. According to a police statement, officers were on patrol in the city's resort area when they heard multiple gunshots at 11:22 p.m. 

They arrived at the 2000 block of Atlantic Avenue and found several gunshot victims, who then received medical treatment.

At a separate shooting incident on the 300 block of 19th Street, 28-year-old Deshayla Harris of Norfolk was killed.

At a third incident, on the 300 block of 20th Street, a police officer fatally shot Donovon Lynch, a 25 year-old man from Virginia Beach.

In the days that followed, police made several arrests in the shootings on Atlantic Avenue.

A special grand jury concluded the officer who shot Lynch, Solomon Simmons, acted in justifiable self-defense and in defense of others. The jury declined to issue indictments.

Lynch’s family filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against Simmons and the city and called for a federal investigation. The suit is ongoing.

“We want transparency and accountability for our community and for our kids,” Wayne Lynch said.

Police and city authorities say Donovon Lynch brandished a weapon, but Officer Simmons had not activated his body camera, making it difficult to understand what happened. Authorities say they searched for, but did not find, any cameras in the area that might have captured the shooting.

Lynch’s cousin Pharrell Williams, the superstar musician and Virginia Beach native, criticized the city’s handling of the case. He cited unspecified “toxic energy” as the reason he pulled his Something in the Water festival from the city. Fans said he was referring to racism in Virginia Beach.

Last fall, the city council voted to create a citizen review board to investigate complaints against the police. The board will have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents. The city is in the process of creating the panel.

Police are still investigating who killed Deshayla Harris. 

“I shouldn't be doing this,” Elisheba Harris said, her voice cracking with emotion. “I shouldn't be at all… this is not helping. And I know they say I'm growing, but I don't see my growth because I feel like it's still March the 26th, 2021… It's hard. I need for everybody to pray for me.”

Wayne Lynch called for action to stop the violence.

“Bright, talented creative young people destined to make a mark in society are routinely killed in the streets of the United States of America, with not much outrage,” he said. “This has to stop. But it won't stop if we don't join together.”

The world changes fast.

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