VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Sgt. Rainey Heine of the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office still thinks about the moment his life changed on May 31, 2019.
“The call no law enforcement officer ever wants to hear: that there was an active shooter in the area," said Heine.
A gunman opened fire inside the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
"I could see a large group of people leaving that direction, and I could see the looks on the faces," he said. "Not knowing where the [gunman] was or if they were being pursued, I waved them over and tried to take up a post to try and defend them from behind."
Heine rushed into action to secure the surrounding area.
Nearly three years later, Heine and three of his colleagues were honored for their bravery that day.
On Friday, Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle awarded the Medal of Merit to Heine, Sgt. Ryan Velasquez, Cpl. Brandon Speers and Lt. Nick Curtis at the Virginia Beach Law Enforcement Training Academy.
"It's bittersweet," said Curtis. "Everybody earned it. Everybody worked hard. Everybody responded, and everybody put themselves in danger to help other people.”
According to the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office, Curtis provided aid to one of the victims.
Though they did not know the shooter's location, Curtis, Speers and Velazquez helped to clear Building One and evacuated people to safety.
“Knowing that they were with me, I had no fears going into that building,” said Velazquez, recounting the moments before entering the building.
The Medal of Merit is awarded to law enforcement "who distinguishes themselves by performing duties in a manner that clearly exceeds what is normally required or expected or for a highly creditable police accomplishment," according to the City of Virginia Beach.
“Really there’s no need to ever thank us. It's what we do," said Speers.
They all said they never stop thinking about that day and hope it never happens again. However, they said they will be ready if it does.
"This is not one of those awards they go, 'Hey, look at what I did,' because it requires a significant horrible tragedy for it to happen," said Heine. "I’m just glad I was prepared and trained and ready to respond to help the citizens of Virginia Beach.”
The Medal of Merit is one of the highest honors in the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office.