VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — On Wednesday night, the 5/31 Memorial Committee selected who they want to create the permanent memorial in Virginia Beach.
It will honor the 12 people killed nearly four years ago when a gunman opened fire at the Municipal Center.
From the beginning, the Memorial Committee’s goal has been to create a place for remembrance and healing following the tragedy that shook the city to its core. Now, they say they’ve found the team to do just that: Dills Architects with SWA.
After hearing from the community and victims’ family members, it seems most are in agreement.
"At some points, we never thought we would get here," Sgt. Brian Ricardo said after the meeting.
Four years after the shooting, one year after the committee was formed, and many months after discussing designs and locations, it came down to two firms: Dills Architects with SWA and RHI with Larry Kirkland Studios.
"We all were just like hands down, it was going to be Dills," said committee member Cozy Livas.
During their presentation last month, the local firm brought the committee members to tears, including Livas.
"They were in our head. It was like, 'You did everything we’ve asked for and then some,'" she said. "The images of what it could look like at night? Done. Total tears."
Dills Architects and SWA design concept
When members of the firm made their presentation, they said visitors would be greeted by a stone wall with lines representing the lives lived by the 12 victims.
They highlighted their idea of a "Survivor’s Grove" with Dogwood trees and forget-me-nots.
A "Hero Tree" would also honor the first responders who were at Building 2 on the day of the shooting. A reflecting pool would lead visitors to the memorial wall with the names of the 12 victims.
"We felt strongly about reflection, about the paths that people take to reflect," said Dills at the time.
When the sun sets, they said 150 lights will turn on to symbolize the 150 years of combined public service from those lost.
Dills Architects estimates the project will cost $5.8 million. They hope to have the memorial completed by May of 2025.
Tara Reel, who worked in Building 2 and lost a lot of friends that day in 2019, said she feels Dills will create something that honors everyone impacted.
"For me, this is about honoring the people that I knew. Remembering them. But also, providing a healing place for the survivors," she said. "I feel like they acknowledged so many people in this, from the 'Survivor’s Grove' and then when you get to the 'Hero Tree.'"
She agreed Dills was the right choice.
"People have waited a long time and I want to do right by the families and the survivors and this community."
Sgt. Brian Ricardo was one of the first people on the scene after the tragedy. He said having something to honor not only the victims but also the survivors really spoke to him.
"I saw everyone on the second floor because they came to me as they were being evacuated out of the building. Those are the survivors that I think about. They’re the ones that I see at night. They’re the ones I did this for. They’re the ones I use to overcome my guilt that I wasn’t there fast enough. That I wasn't there before. I couldn't protect them beforehand. So, this is my gift to them."
He said "survivors" can mean so many things in this case.
"It's infinite, the number of survivors that we had from this event. You just can't even count them."
The committee will still have a say in the design process along the way and it's important to note, the design concept Dills presented is not set in stone. They will continue to take input along the way.
For now, committee members say they're proud of how far they've come and some are already thinking about what it will feel like when it’s finally finished.
"It’s gonna be bittersweet," said Ricardo. "We don’t want to celebrate because this is nothing to celebrate. But we want to recognize, we want to remember, we want to honor... so I don’t know if it’s going to be a relief for me. I can’t predict it at that point, for some folks it may be, ‘Hey, finally we’ve been recognized.’"
Reel said she is looking forward to standing by the memorial wall at sunset.
"I’m very much in anticipation to what this will bring to other people."
Livas said she thinks there will be a feeling of accomplishment: "A feeling of letting these people and these souls get to rest."
The next step is for the committee to make their official recommendation to the city council on Tuesday.