Ryan Keith Cox focused on numbers as a Virginia Beach, Va., public utilities account clerk, in processing its operating expenses and project invoices. But the 12-year employee, a pastor’s son better known as Keith, was more attuned to the people he worked with.
It was a trait that likely cost him his life last May 31, during a former employee’s still inexplicable shooting rampage that killed Cox, 10 colleagues in public utilities and in the city’s public works unit, and a visiting contractor. Cox, 50, is credited with urging co-workers to barricade themselves in an office away from the shooter, a nine-year city engineer.
Declining to join them, Cox instead moved toward the gunfire to help others, but died just 10 ft away from safety, a former colleague told the Virginian-Pilot.
“Keith was very generous in spirit, always willing to lend an ear to whoever needed it,” says Robert S. Montague Jr., utilities department director. “That’s the way he spent his final moments as well.”
In addition to Cox, outlined in white in the above photo, others killed were (from left, top row) three public works staffers: right-of-way agent LaQuita C. Brown, engineer Tara Gallagher and right-of-way agent Mary Louise Gayle;
(Middle) right-of-way agent Alexander M. Gusev, and three in public utilities: engineering technician Joshua O. Hardy, administrative assistant Michelle Langer, and engineer manager Richard H. Nettleton, a 28-year city veteran;
And (bottom) public utilities engineer Katherine A. Nixon, public works engineer Christopher K. Rapp, contractor Herbert Snelling and Robert Williams, public utilities special projects coordinator and a 41-year city employee.
Montague, a 24-year city employee in his current role since 2016, says the 400 displaced staffers have resumed work in other buildings.
But he acknowledges, “We’re not by any means past this. It’s hard to come to grips with a loss never imagined, and customers out there still needing our services.” Montague notes a $35.8-million 2021 capital budget for public utilities, which handles water and wastewater operations. A new city hall is under construction.
Virginia’s U.S. congressional delegation pushed legislation last year to rename a city post office in Cox’s memory and to allow tax credits through 2021 for donations to a fund for those killed and injured.
The American Public Works Association, to which a number of city staffers belong, has linked its large national membership to the fund and will again offer active shooter training sessions at its 2020 convention, says the group.
Montague notes the painful loss of staff such as Nettleton, a seasoned design and construction executive “who was so valuable to his project managers,” and helped new hires pass the PE licensing exam; and 10-year veteran Nixon, “a talented engineer who rose to bureau lead.”
Four injured employees have not returned to work full-time, but others have stepped up to do “yeoman’s work,” he says, although media still speculate on staff gaps and work delays.
Even as questions linger about motive, new incident probes and recovery, Montague hopes “our response may have positive benefits for others.”