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Virginia Beach collects public mementos for permanent mass shooting memorial

“Whether it was a small little item or even a bouquet of flowers, even if they couldn’t be kept, they’ve been documented,” said the memorial's manager.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — How do you create a permanent memorial to the 12 people who lost their lives in the Virginia Beach mass shooting?

It’s a tough question to answer. But city leaders and mental health experts are working with the victims’ families to come up with a solution.

13News Now's own Nicole Livas was invited to the storage unit to see some of the mementos honoring those lost, and learned that this is meant to be the beginning of a long process of healing.

Immediately after the mass shooting, people visited the municipal center and started building a memorial near the police station there. Each day, that temporary memorial grew larger. Thousands of items including trinkets, notes, flowers and memorabilia were left.

RELATED: Virginia Beach temporary shooting memorial to be collected, given to victims' families

Nina Goodale with Virginia Beach Cultural Affairs is managing the memorial projects. 

“Whether it was a small little item or even a bouquet of flowers, even if they couldn’t be kept, they’ve been documented,” she said.

Her team joined staff from the Virginia Beach History Museum to take on the emotional task of documenting and cataloging the precious mementos.

“It’s a difficult process to revisit and to go through. It’s emotional and touching, no matter what,” Goodale said.

Part of that process includes talking to other communities that have experienced the same grief, about how to create a  permanent memorial.

"It is based on the help of local partners and other cities who have gone through this from Aurora to 9/11, to Sandy Hook," she said.

Credit: Nicole Livas, 13News Now

The biggest word of advice: this is a process of healing, which takes time. 

And Goodale learned, it’s different for everyone.

“Not everyone goes through that process and trauma at the same speed. Some folks aren’t ready to talk about it for months or even years to come, whereas some want to take action immediately,” she said.

Now we have the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic, which makes this process even more challenging.

Kurt Hooks is the CEO of Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center. He’s advising the group working on memorial. He says coming together -- just like we did with the "VB Strong" movement following the tragedy -- can serve us well now in the healing process.

“We’re all fighting our own battles, but we’re fighting battles... just that collective knowing, 'Hey, I’m not alone,' and then taking that next step with people who are also struggling and getting that support on a personal level and on a professional level,” said Hooks.

Hooks also said that even though we are physically distant right now, we should take advantage of virtual opportunities to stay connected, whether it’s by calling friends or family members or using telemedicine for professional counseling.

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