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Remembering the Victims of Virginia Beach

As I said at our campus vigil last week, we have come together far too many times in the past year to memorialize the victims of hate and violence. Last week, it was to honor the 12 people who were killed in the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.

As we learn more about them, we realize the deep impact they made both professionally and personally and how much our community has lost with their passing.

Five among them were Monarchs - four alumni and one former student. Let me tell you a little about them:

Keith Cox, who attended Old Dominion, was credited with saving several colleagues. He refused to join them in shelter, choosing instead to search for others in danger. One woman who survived the ordeal said: "We would not be here today if Keith had not forced us into that room and made us stay there. He gave his life so that all seven of us women could have ours." Cox, who worked as a public utilities account clerk, also was known for treating co-workers to lunch and for his stirring voice in the choir of New Hope Baptist Church.

Tara Welch Gallagher, a public works engineer, received two degrees from Old Dominion, a bachelor's in civil engineering in 2002 and a master's in engineering in 2003. At work, she was "a dedicated public servant who was always professional in her interactions," her obituary said. At home, she was "a devoted mother" who was "kind in her heart, compassionate in her actions and humble in her demeanor."

Alexander Mikhail Gusev served as a right-of-way agent for the Public Works Department. He came to the United States from Belarus in 2003 and had hoped to start a family here. Gusev received a bachelor's degree in business administration in 2010. He loved to surf and play soccer and volleyball. He was remembered as a "model professional" and a "great guy," someone who would stop everything he was doing to help a friend.

Rich Nettleton, who earned a master's degree in business administration in 1992, worked for Virginia Beach for 28 years as a public utilities engineer. He had served as a lieutenant in the Army's 130th Engineer Brigade in Germany and was chairman of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission's Regional Construction Standards committee. In his obituary, co-workers described Nettleton "as one who put himself last on the list when others had a need. Rich always strived to be the better person and include everyone."

Chris Rapp moved to Virginia Beach last year to be a public works engineer. He previously served as public works director in Stafford County, where he was remembered as "a kind man who treated everyone with dignity and respect." Away from work, he was a spirited bagpipe player with Tidewater Pipes & Drums. The group honored him by playing "Amazing Grace" outside the municipal complex last week. Rapp received his bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1994. His mother, Patty, is a retired administrator of our English Language Center.

The tragedy in Virginia Beach has triggered a range of conflicting emotions - pain, anger and confusion. But it has also brought out the best in the Monarch community, and I am heartened that many have stepped up to volunteer, including our ODU counselors participating in the Virginia Beach First Responders team to help those in need.

As Dymon Bailey, the director of legislative affairs and diversity for our Student Government Association, said at the vigil: "We are Virginia Beach strong." Nearly 1,000 of our employees and more than 24,000 of our alumni live in Virginia Beach. About 4,500 of our students graduated from high schools at the Beach. And approximately 100 of our faculty and staff members work at Old Dominion's Virginia Beach Center in the Princess Anne corridor.

What I said last week will hold true for the foreseeable future: We must lift one another up - looking after the families and friends of those taken from us, expressing gratitude to first responders and medical professionals who ably saved others. Let's extend our Monarch embrace across Hampton Roads to help restore our community - though we will never be the same.

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