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Scholarship honors slain hero of 2019 Virginia Beach mass shooting

Ryan Keith Cox died while protecting his coworkers during the 2019 Virginia Beach mass shooting. Now, a scholarship at the high school he attended honors his legacy.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Editor's note: This story is a part of our Making A Mark series.

Tina Garfield is a Spanish teacher at Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach. In the mid-1980s, she was a student there along with Ryan Keith Cox.

"He was really quiet, but amazingly, everybody knew him at Princess Anne," Garfield said. "He had a smile that was infectious. He was kind and sweet to everyone. He was a gentle giant. He was just the nicest person you would ever meet."

On May 31st, 2019, a gunman shot and killed 12 people inside Municipal Center Building 2 at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. Several others were hurt.

Survivors say Cox, an account clerk, died while protecting his coworkers.

"It was not a surprise to me," Garfield said. "I think that his family and his church prepared him for that heroism...He was strong in his faith, and I just think that he had no fear."

In 2021, Garfield launched the $500 Ryan K. Cox Memorial Scholarship for Black, male seniors at Princess Anne High School.

Donations came in from school staff, the PAHS class of 1986, Cox's family, and the community.

"He was a cavalier, and here we are, a family. And we take care of one another, and we also cherish our bonds here at Princess Anne," Garfield said. "So, I knew I had to establish this scholarship to keep his name in our memory."

Garfield hopes the scholarship not only honors outstanding students but serves as a reminder of Cox's kindness and bravery.

"I wanted to make sure that it was based on personality traits, soft skills, social and emotional strength more than a GPA. Because nobody's [going to] remember a GPA, but everyone will remember how you act, how you interact, and especially how you act under pressure," Garfield said.

"And Keith was a diamond under the worst pressure," Garfield said. "He moved with grace and selflessness and gave the ultimate sacrifice."

"Someone is always having to make a split decision that impacts the lives of multiple people. Cities, states, and countries. And it's scary," Garfield said. "And you hope that there's [going to] be someone with the courage that Keith had."

The recipient of this year's Ryan K. Cox Memorial Scholarship will be announced June 9, 2023, at the Princess Anne High School Senior Awards Ceremony.

You can donate to the scholarship's fund via PayPal or by mailing a check or money order to Princess Anne High School, 4400 Virginia Beach Boulevard, Virginia Beach, VA 23462.

Checks and money orders should be made payable to Princess Anne High School with "Ryan K. Cox Memorial Scholarship" in the memo line.

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