Commentary: A Time of Gratitude, Community, and Strength

Commentary: A Time of Gratitude, Community, and Strength

This has been a shocking time for our beloved city and country. Whether we live in Del Ray or another neighborhood, it saddens all of us that our peaceful community became the latest on a long list of places to experience violence at the hands of a madman.

Only a few days after the unthinkable occurred, the park around Simpson Field and our streets reopened. Together, we are resilient. We are a blessed community.

First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Congressman Steve Scalise and the other shooting victims as well as their loved ones. We pray for all of them. In addition to the wounded, such a trauma leaves wounds that cannot be seen. We hope that those invisible wounds will heal in time for all those who were on the scene.

On behalf of a grateful city, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the U.S. Capitol Police and our Alexandria Police Department. You are our heroes. What a team effort. We are blessed by your remarkable courage under fire. Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown and his department have performed extremely well. Officer Nicole Battaglia, Officer Alexander Jensen, and Officer Kevin Jobe were the three officers who arrived on the scene immediately. I understand that one of them arrived on the scene within 35 seconds. The other two arrived about two minutes later. All engaged in the gunfight, which was fierce. Together, they saved lives. As Chief Brown has said, “You can’t teach courage.” I agree with him that our officers clearly have it.

Our Alexandria Fire/EMS was outstanding, rendering aid immediately to the wounded, even before the “all clear” had been given. True courage as well. Our heartfelt thanks to them as well as our Sheriff's Department, which also responded. Our thanks to our Department of Emergency Communications and the Office of Emergency Management. It was a total team effort. Thanks to all our first responders for their compassion and care. All of us are deeply proud of our phenomenal public safety team. We are well-served by them. My thanks as well to our city staff, who helped in countless ways throughout these days.

I am also proud of how our residents responded to this crisis. On Wednesday morning soon after the shooting site had been secured, residents came out with baked goods and cold water. Some gave hugs to our police. All of this meant the world to our police and first responders. For some of our officers and other first responders, it was their day off, but Chief Brown told me that so many went straight to the scene to be of help. When we as citizens are running away from danger, our police and first responders are running toward it.

The parking lot across the street from the ball field immediately became the temporary site of the trailers for the FBI investigation, assisted by our police department. Every day, residents and restaurants dropped off great food and waters and sodas. There was an outpouring of gratitude and love. That is our community.

On Wednesday late afternoon, in spite of the heat and the long, emotionally exhausting day, Chief Brown wanted to reach out to the residents in the vicinity of the ball field. Officers fanned out across the surrounding neighborhood to knock on doors and reassure our residents. Chief Brown, Fire Chief Robert Dube, and Sheriff Dana Lawhorne covered a number of streets. It was meaningful to our residents to speak with them. What I noticed is that people wanted to talk about what had happened. We were all still processing what had occurred.

On that early evening, hundreds of residents of all ages gathered on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray and participated in a Walk of Solidarity. Together, we walked to a church near the site of the shooting and said a prayer for the wounded, for healing, for our community, and for peace. There were at least five similar community healing gatherings throughout our city that night. These were all organized that afternoon by residents and clergy. We all wanted to stand together and be together.

On Thursday night, by sheer chance, there was a long-planned fundraiser for the Alexandria Police Foundation. Chief Brown spoke movingly about the valor of our police officers and the U.S. Capitol Police. Our Alexandria Police Foundation provides critical support to our officers and police canines. This is a great cause, and contributions to this organization would be one way to show our appreciation to our police force for the work they do. You may find out more information on their web site at .

On Friday night as I left City Hall, I stopped by the designated area of the investigation to thank our police who were on site. The parking lot was full of trailers, one for our Alexandria Police Department and the others for the FBI. The Salvation Army had created a makeshift canteen that was serving fresh food, ice cold water and sodas. The Red Cross had also set up a presence, providing emotional support and help, which will be ongoing.

One of our officers said that she went to get something at a local store for the officers at the scene, and before she could pay, a stranger just swiped their credit card and paid for all the items, totaling about $75. The officer was not even sure of their name. Another officer told me a similar story. Gratitude and love. That is our community.

As I was about to leave the staging area, I was introduced to an FBI agent, who was one of the commanders in charge, and I thanked him and his team. Every FBI agent I met said how outstanding our Alexandria Police Department was. They also praised our sense of community and outpouring of support from the city and our residents. So I was there to thank them, and yet, they were praising our police and city. I am so grateful to the FBI for their hard work and dedication. Our city and country owe them a debt of gratitude. I am also deeply proud of our city and how everyone stepped up to be there for those who have been there for us.

In recent days, there has been an avalanche of calls and emails, all of which gave us strength. I am grateful for the countless emails and texts from our residents as well as calls from mayors across the country who are keeping us in their prayers. I told Chief Brown that the residents are singing the praises of the U.S. Capitol Police, our Alexandria Police Department, and all the first responders. Former residents have even sent their prayers. This is a blessed city.

Here is what I know. You cannot manufacture community overnight, and you cannot fake it. Alexandria is in fact all about community. And I am grateful. Our small-town feel is one of the reasons all of us love Alexandria. It is an honor and a privilege to serve as mayor of such a caring, tight-knit community.

There has been a tremendous outpouring of love, a sense of mission where we all felt the need to do something positive for others. Together, we helped our community get through this unthinkable time, and I thank each of you. Let's continue to channel that sense of mission to help make our community better for all.

All of us continue to keep the victims and their loved ones in our thoughts and prayers, as we pray that all will make a full recovery.