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Temporary memorial marks anniversary of 2019 Virginia Beach mass shooting

The yellow, blue and white design of Virginia Beach's temporary forget-me-not flower on Mount Trashmore Park
Virginia Beach's temporary forget-me-not flower on Mount Trashmore Park, based on the image shown here, can take a few days to complete. (Photo: Mechelle Hankerson/WHRO )

Mechelle Hankerson/WHRO

Before crews paint the giant, blue forget-me-not flower on the side of Virginia Beach’s Mount Trashmore, Frank Fentress has a lot of math to do.

The Virginia Beach parks and recreation landscape management administrator measures precise squares, so a five-person team can make the point of the flowers’ petals at the corner.

There are horizontal lines spray-painted on the grass, right under the city seal, so the crew knows where the top and bottom halves of the flower should go.

“It was designed by a graphic artist; they just asked us to paint it on the mountain,” Fentress said. “So, we figured it out from there. … [We] put it out to scale, so that we could take measurements and lay it out from squares and rectangles and pulling geometric circles, like using a big compass.”

It’s the third year that city crews have painted something on the side of Mount Trashmore in memory of the victims of the 2019 mass shooting at the municipal center.

Donnetta Stokes, a landscape supervisor at Mount Trashmore, helped with the first image, right after the shooting: A black ribbon.

Now, she works on a blue forget-me-not flower.

"It shows that someone cares outside of just the family," she said. "City workers, we're family, too. So, us doing this is showing them that, 'Hey, we care about your family members, too.'"

Donnetta Stokes works outdoors at Mount Trashmore.
Donnetta Stokes has been part of painting a memorial on Virginia Beach's Mount Trashmore since the 2019 mass shooting. She works year-round at the park. (Photo: Mechelle Hankerson/WHRO)

The 12 petals in the design represent the people who died during the shooting. The four petals in the middle represent the four people injured, and a white center circle is for a police officer who was shot.

Each year, Fentress said, reflecting on the 2019 shooting becomes less about reliving a tragedy and more about healing.

“I reflect on it almost every day when I'm at work,” he said. “There's something that brings up a memory, and I reflect on it every day. … It just makes me feel proud that we're able to help our city heal.”

Parks and Recreation landscape management administrator Frank Fentress helps employees lay out flags, spray paint and other markers to make sure the painted flower at Mount Trashmore is identical to its design.
Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation Landscape Management Administrator Frank Fentress helps employees lay out flags, spray paint and other markers to make sure the painted flower at Mount Trashmore is identical to its design.  (Photo: Mechelle Hankerson/WHRO)

The crew working on the flower has largely been the same for the last three years. Each year, they make slight adjustments to the tools and the process they use to paint the flower.

“There's really no method to the madness,” said David Warren, a superintendent of ground services for the city. “We tried stencils at one point, but we realized it wasn't our best option ... . So, we’ve finally gone with this route and it seems to work mostly.”

Crews use turf paint, like what lines sports fields at schools. It requires touch-ups, but when May 31 passes, the city can let the flower naturally fade.

The parks and recreation staff works closely with public works employees, who worked in Building 2, where the shooting took place.

“It's kind of like a kind of a brotherhood,” Warren said. “It still affected us just as much as it affected them because it could have been us. ... Any little thing that we can do for anybody, if it has meaning to anybody that was in that division or in that department — just one person — it would mean a lot to us.”