Approaching 35 years in law enforcement, the job isn’t any less difficult for Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Gary T. Settle.
The Rappahannock native was attending a memorial service last Friday for fallen first responders in Richmond — where earlier in the month he greeted men and women of the Virginia State Police and their families to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, including the parents and sister of Trooper Lucas B. Dowell, who was shot and killed on Feb. 4 — when he was alerted to the unfolding massacre in Virginia Beach.
“When it became clear it was a horrific scene, and certainly tragic, one of my thoughts turned to the Virginia Tech massacre. I had a flashback there,” Col. Settle acknowledged in a telephone interview, recalling the 2007 shooting that killed 32 people and hit very close to home — taking the life of 19-year-old Emily J. Hilscher of Woodville.
“I was present there as well, investigated that crime scene process,” he recalled.
Now, instead of Blacksburg, the superintendent was racing to Virginia Beach, his thoughts on the latest group of unsuspecting Virginia victims, their families, and first responders, state troopers among them.
As pointed out in the wake of Friday’s bloodbath — the nation’s deadliest of the year, leaving 12 people dead, plus the shooter — their lives will be forever changed.
Col. Settle offered Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera the full resources of the State Police. Its troopers and special agents, in fact, were still on the scene late this week of what Cervera described as a “war zone,” assisting with the crime scene investigation, conducting follow up interviews, and providing perimeter security.
“We have a fairly robust presence there,” the superintendent said.
“My bigger concern during the entire weekend was the families, especially those who lost loved ones,” he said. “I had the opportunity to see family members of those injured at the hospital. It was a very humbling experience, a very sobering event.”
“No, it doesn’t get any easier,” Col. Settle replied to our question. “It’s certainly been an eventful last two or three years: the Unite the Right rally in 2017; the memorialization last year of three of our troopers; Lucas Dowell in February; and now this senseless act by this individual who perpetrated this crime.”
While nobody can make complete sense of such tragedies, from a personal standpoint the superintendent said he finds solace in one way, at least: “I can pass along some level of comfort and assurance that the commonwealth is behind our citizens. That is a win for me.”