Melissa Faye Snelling will be joined by her grandmother Roni Sharrett in memory of Bart Snelling. During the shooting Melissa lost her father and Roni lost her son. Both women would like a tattoo of Bart’s words they hope to always remember.
Jim Thornton had the tragic duty of helping families identify the remains of their murdered loved ones. “I completed eleven death certificate notices that night. Afterward, I led the chaplains in the city-wide counseling services. May 31st was the worst day I ever experienced and these last five months have been the most difficult of my career.” Jim would like a tattoo of an hourglass.
Tammy Corey assisted a co-worker who had fallen to the ground right in front of the shooter. She was also with one of the victims just before he was shot. “I heard the gunshots that killed my co-worker. I knew eight of the twelve victims. I locked myself in an office, but the shooter looked right at me through the glass wall. Then he moved on. When the officers rescued me, I had to go down the stairwell and stepped over one of my dead colleagues.” Tammy suffers from acute PTSD from the event. She has requested a dragonfly tattoo which has a personal significance about her survival.
Officer Taylor Rose Troy responded to the call of shots fired at the Municipal Center. “I was the only patrol officer available at the time,” he says. “When I arrived, I grabbed a keycard from one of the employees fleeing out the door, shouted to another officer who had just arrived, and together we entered the building. I knew right away what I was responding to. I don’t remember what I first saw – I blocked it out – but we were the only two officers to make it to the third floor and we came across victims who were dead or badly wounded. We heard the shooter was moving from the second floor to the third and held the doors until SWAT arrived and he was captured. We then stood guard over the bodies of the deceased for the next two hours.” Officer Troy says he knows exactly the tattoo he wants, “a quote from a certain song. I want to have it written in white on my forearm so it can always be a reminder.”
Also participating will be the FBI Agent in charge from moments after the shooting through the ongoing investigation. The Agent cannot be identified for security reasons but shares part of his experience. “I got the call about the shooting minutes after it occurred, was on scene within the hour of the first shots fired, and spent days and days on scene. I completed three tours as a Marine in Iraq, surviving multiple engagements with the enemy. This was something completely different. It has forever changed my perspective of my surroundings.”
Artist Dor Dlugatch is traveling from Israel to work with the survivors. He has done this kind of work before. “Israel, maybe more than any other country, is a place always dealing with violence, terror and wars. Every Israeli knows first-hand someone who has been injured in one way or another,” says Dor. “Maybe our experiences make us more sensitive and give us a desire to ease the pain [of victims elsewhere]. When the tattoo is done you can see them transform right in front of your eyes.”
All fourteen artists are donating their talents. The Virginia artists feel a profound connection with those injured and traumatized in their back yard. Many originally came from the rough world of illegal graffiti. “I never thought I would be painting in a police station,” laughs one Virginian artist who prefers to remain anonymous.
“You can see how this work transcends differences,” says Craig Dershowitz, President of Healing Ink and pioneer of the international program. “The survivors of the Virginia Beach massacre carry the pain of that day written upon their bodies and their minds. These artists are going to help them write a new story of their own choosing.”
Robin Mancoll, Chief Program Officer of the Community Relations Council at United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, which is sponsoring the program. “All of us in Virginia Beach has a friend of a friend or colleague who was directly impacted in some way,” says Mancoll. “We had heard about the tattoo artists in Israel who help victims of terrorism. We now share that kind of pain and we want to do our part to help our community to heal.”