© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

“We’re able to help our city heal”: Temporary memorial helps Virginia Beach employees cope with 2019 mass shooting

Photo by Mechelle Hankerson. Virginia Beach's temporary Forget-Me-Not flower on Mount Trashmore can take a few days to fully complete.
Photo by Mechelle Hankerson. Virginia Beach's temporary Forget-Me-Not flower on Mount Trashmore can take a few days to fully complete.

Before crews paint the giant, blue Forget-Me-Not flower on the side of Virginia Beach’s Mount Trashmore, Frank Fentress has a lot of math to do.

He measures precise squares so the five-person team can make the point of the flowers’ petals at the corner.

There are horizontal lines spray-painted on the grass, right under the city seal, so the crew knows where the top and bottom halves of the flower should go.

“It was designed by a graphic artist; they just asked us to paint it on the mountain,” Fentress said. “So we figured it out from there. … (We) put it out to scale so that we could take measurements and lay it out from squares and rectangles and pulling geometric circles, like using a big compass.”

It’s the third year city crews have painted something on the side of Mount Trashmore in memory of the victims of the 2019 mass shooting at the municipal center.

Donnetta Stokes, a landscape supervisor at Mount Trashmore, helped with the first image, right after the shooting: A black ribbon.

Now, she works on a blue Forget-Me-Not flower.

"It shows that someone cares outside of just the family," she said. "City workers, we're family too. So us doing this is showing them that, hey, we care about your family members too."

The 12 petals in the design represent the people who died during the shooting. The four petals in the middle represent the four people injured, and a white center circle is for a police officer who was shot.

Each year, Fentress said, reflecting on the 2019 shooting becomes less about reliving a tragedy and more about healing.

“I reflect on it almost every day when I'm at work,” he said. “There's something that brings up a memory, and I reflect on it every day. … It just makes me feel proud that we're able to help our city heal.”

The crew working on the flower has largely been the same for the last three years.

Each year, they make slight adjustments to the tools and the process they use to paint the flower.

“There's really no method to the madness,” said David Warren, a superintendent of ground services for the city. “We tried stencils at one point, but we realized it wasn't our best option to use. So we’ve finally gone with this route and it seems to work mostly.”

Crews use turf paint, like what lines sports fields at schools. It requires touch-ups, but when May 31 passes, the city can let the flower naturally fade.

The parks and recreation staff works closely with public works employees, who worked in Building 2, where the shooting took place.

“It's kind of like a kind of a brotherhood,” Warren said. “It still affected us just as much as it affected them because it could have been us.

“Any little thing that we can do for anybody, if it has meaning to anybody that was in that division or in that department - just one person - it would mean a lot to us.”

Reporter Paul Bibeau contributed to this report

Mechelle is News Director at WHRO. She helped launch the newsroom as a reporter in 2020. She's worked in newspapers and nonprofit news in her career. Mechelle lives in Virginia Beach, where she grew up.

The world changes fast.

Keep up with daily local news from WHRO. Get local news every weekday in your inbox.

Sign-up here.