Two years after Virginia Beach mass shooting, police chaplain reflects on the healing process

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Two years after a mass shooting rocked the City of Virginia Beach workforce and surrounding community, a police chaplain says it’s evident to him that healing is far from over.

Roger Gauthier serves as a chaplain for the Virginia Beach Police Department first precinct and was part of the team of chaplains who responded to the shooting as it happened.

To this day, it still weighs heavily on officers’ minds.

“Every day, actually. It has come up every day, with a fellow chaplain, a police officer in passing,” Gauthier said.

It was on May 31, 2019 that public utilities engineer Dewayne Craddock shot and killed 12 people and seriously hurt four others at Building 2 at the city’s Municipal Center before being killed himself in a gun battle with police.

A police officer was also hit by one of Craddock’s bullets. He was saved by his bulletproof vest.

Gauthier was at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital on other employment when he learned the news of the shooting. Soon after, he saw the images he said will stick with him for as long as he lives.

“Several of the wounded came into the hospital on gurneys. I just was taken aback I suppose … because I kept seeing the numbers go up on text messages from a few to nine to more… It was not just the quantity that bothered me, just that those people coming in have been shot by people in our city,” Gauthier said.

BELOW: Moment of silence to honor victims of 2019 mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

As a chaplain, Gauthier is a trained volunteer who works to offer care to police officers, police staff, and their families.

On the day of the shooting, those duties expanded to speaking with family members who had arrived at the hospital in hopes that their loved ones would be there.

“Our job was to find out from the staff whether that patient was there,” Gauthier said. “Very difficult, very difficult because I wanted to be able to help them immediately and say yes, their loved one was there or their loved one was OK. But when I sent them to the reunification center and their family member was not at the hospital, it was definitely hard for me knowing that when they got [to the reunification center], they’ll probably face the worse news.”

No motive was ever found for the massacre. While some may believe finding the “why” would bring closure to family members who lost loved ones, Gauthier said if two years have taught him anything — that’s not the case.

“Closure seems to be an Americanized term. Something that we have heard over and over and over and we’ve adopted it,” Gauthier said. “I would say that there really is no closure.”

While no police officers sustained major injuries, Gauthier said for those stationed in the first precinct — which sits in eyesight of Building 2 — there are feelings of guilt.

“They were fast and they responded quickly. But there is always that, ‘should we have done more.’ That’s a part of human nature and that is part of how we try to help them,” Gauthier said. “Allowing people to talk without interruption and without intervention. Allowing them to talk is allowing them to hear their story. And where their story is changing or not changing.”

Gauthier believes this method can help anyone still struggling with the tragedy.

“What I can offer is, to each other that we would continue to express our needs and continue to find a safe place and to talk about things and not hide things and not suppress things,” Gauthier said. “This is a time for human beings to be kind to one another. It’s not a time to judge one another. It’s not a time to impose our belief systems on anybody. It’s a time to walk alongside of people.” 

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