VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — How do you find the words to offer comfort to a community in its darkest hour?
That was the challenge for Steve Gray after a city worker opened fire in Building 2 at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, taking down 12 of his co-workers.
Gray is a chaplain for the police department, a helper who offers healing in a time of tragedy. He was one of the quiet heroes who, in the city's darkest hour, pointed us toward the light with words of encouragement, trying to make some sense of the senseless.
"Always when I go out on a case, regardless of what it is, I pray that God will give me his words, his strength to work through this," said Gray, who is one of nearly 30 chaplains in the police department. "When people see a chaplain, they think upward. They think you are a representative of God."
Minutes after the mass shooting, Gray found himself doing ministry in the midst of the chaos, offering comfort to families waiting anxiously to connect with loved ones.
To provide comfort amidst all of the uncertainty, Gray said he had to "listen very well and wait for an opportunity to say something, or not. It might be a hug, a gesture, it just depends on the situation."
Chaplain Gray was present as several families got word that a loved one had not survived.
"Most of them feel guilty," he said. "That's usually the first emotion that comes up for the most part. There's always different ones, like why they weren't there, or why they couldn't get a hold of them."
As dark as it was on May 31, 2019, Chaplain Gray said there were signs of hope in the flowers, the messages, and teddy bears brought to the makeshift memorial outside Building 2.
"There was a peace at the memorial. When people showed up, there seemed to be peace. I don't know if everyone was at peace, but there was peace."
He also said there was a sense that people were searching for something.
"At that point a lot of people wanted us to pray with them," the chaplain recalled. "[We prayed for] God's peace and blessing and his understanding."
Chaplain Gray said we live in a fallen world; sadly things like this are going to happen. But what better way to honor those we lost that day than to remember again what so many of us promised: for us to open our hearts to opportunities and to look at things differently.
"You learn to put aside all of the things that don't seem to be important and draw closer to your friends and neighbors," he said.