VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Tuesday night, family, friends and the Virginia Beach community came together to remember the 12 lives taken too soon and the victims who survived the 5/31 mass shooting.
They're gone, but never forgotten.
Three years after a disgruntled employee gunned down 12 people in the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, people were finally able to come together in person to honor the victims.
"Three years ago today, the city was rocked by an unspeakable tragedy. The damage inflicted was physically, mentally and emotionally immeasurable," Mayor Bobby Dyer told the crowd.
It is a day no one will soon forget, including those that worked in Building 2 but escaped death.
Bettina Williams, with Virginia Beach Public Utilities, said she left early that day for a charity event.
"It is only because of grace and mercy that I am here," she said. "We must think about and do something to honor our Virginia Beach 12. My coworkers, my friends, my adoptive family members."
The bell tolled 12 times, to honor the 12 lives taken, including Kate Nixon.
"It’s been a very emotional and exhausting day," said Kate's husband Jason Nixon.
As a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace pierced the air at Mount Trashmore, it was a moment of reflection.
Earlier in the day, families visited Building 2 at the municipal center to place flowers and reflect during a moment of silence at 4:06 p.m. That's when the first 911 call came in that day.
Nixon said they also finally laid his wife’s ashes to rest.
"It was a healing process for all of us, and we got to sit around and tell stories about Kate and their mom. They heard things they’d probably never heard before," he said, gesturing to his three daughters.
Myron Nahrn, a Virginia Beach Community Emergency Response Team volunteer, said as a Virginia Beach native, it was important for him to help out on an emotional day like today, even if it's just directing traffic in the parking lot.
"It was a very sad event, and we worked the memorial right after it happened and you could see how it touched people’s lives. I had friends of mine who were there," he said. "Thankfully they came out okay, but it’s a sad situation, and anything we can do on a hot day like today, they’re going to be stressed, if we can eliminate that stress, I’m happy to do it."
He said watching the community come together during that first memorial right after it happened was beautiful.
"They came together, they put their differences aside. They said, 'Okay, what do we have to do to get the city right?' That’s powerful," Nahrn saId.
Mayor Dyer told the crowd Tuesday night they will not let darkness define who they are as a city or as a community.
"Your loved ones' name and memory will never ever be forgotten," Mayor Dyer said.
Battalion Chief Lorna Trent with the Virginia Beach Fire Department closed out the night by saying she remembers the grief and the pain of that day, but also how the community enveloped the survivors, victims and their families in love.
"You do not need to be strong every single day. It’s okay to feel sad, to be angry, to need the support of others. You are not alone. You have our community," Trent said.
She, and the other speakers Tuesday night, echoed one sentiment over and over.
"We are still, and will remain, VB Strong."
Nixon and many others in the crowd said they hope this tradition carries on for years to come so no one who lost their lives that day is ever forgotten.