Ryan Keith Cox was a hero of the Virginia Beach mass shooting, said survivors who credit their lives to him.
Cox, an account clerk at Virginia Beach Public Utilities, saved the lives of seven women who were also in building 2 of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center Friday when a suspect began “firing indiscriminately” at people on all three levels of the building. The heroism brings to mind that of Kendrick Castillo, Riley Howell, and others who gave their lives protecting others in recent mass shooting tragedies.
Bobbie Stockton of Norfolk, VA told Heavy her sister would not be alive if not for Cox. He took her and six others to safety, and told them to barricade themselves and keep quiet. Then, against their protests, he went back toward gunfire to help more people.
“He said, ‘You’re safe now. You stay,” and then went to get others,” Stockton said. “That, to me, is a true hero. He gave his life to save others.”
“Your brother literally saved my life yesterday,” Tara McGee wrote in a comment to Ervin Cox Jr., Cox’s older brother. “He made sure myself and 6 other women were safe yesterday when this madness was going on all around us. I will never forget my dear friend, Keith.”
He was known as Keith Cox to his friends and coworkers.
Bobbie Stockton also shared her account on Facebook. Sharing a photo collage of victims that included Cox’s photo, Stockton wrote:
“The second gentleman on the top row is a hero ….
Ryan Keith Cox…
He gave his life helping save his fellow employees including my sister ….
He and his family will be in my thoughts….
Sad about what has happened and thankful for my sisters safety…
RIP sir you are a hero.”
Heavy has reached out to others to get further details of Cox’s heroism and will update this article if more information is received.
Cox was the son of a preacher at a local church, where he sang in the choir. He was known as “the golden voice” at New Hope Baptist Church in Virginia Beach.
Delvon C. Key wrote on Facebook, “A lot of you know Ryan Keith Cox via church and his church affiliation. Just found out he is a hero. He died saving the lives of his coworkers. And those who knew him are not surprised. Ryan Keith Cox…we speak your name.”
Here’s what you need to know:
He Led Several Colleagues to Safety and Returned to Save More
Keith Cox’s first instinct when shots rang out in his office building was not to run, but to protect.
He led multiple colleagues to safety as a suspect armed with two .45-caliber handguns and extended magazines repeatedly reloaded. Once Cox was sure they were safe, he went back inside to check on others, Stockton’s sister, account clerk Christi Dewar told The Washington Post.
“I think that’s when [the gunman] got Keith,” she said.
Stockton, Dewar’s sister, told Heavy her sister would not be alive if not for Cox. She said he took her and at least six other women to safety. He told them to barricade themselves and stay quiet. They begged him to stay.
“He said, ‘You’re safe now. You stay,’ and then went to get others,” she said. “To me, that’s a true hero. He gave his life to save others,” she said.
Dewar told NPR the first thing she heard was a woman screaming, “active shooter!” She thought it was a drill. Then reality set in, followed by panic. She and Cox, her close friend, moved away from the sound of gunfire. Another coworker rushed by, saying to go the other way. She spotted the break room and said they and the others could hide inside.
“He said, ‘No, stay here, stay quiet,'” Dewar recalled. “I said, ‘Come on,’ and he said, ‘I have to go check on the other ones.'”
They pushed a heavy cabinet in front of the door. Everything went quiet. Cox still hadn’t returned.
“Two bullets almost came through the back of the cabinet,” Dewar said. “We fell to the ground; then we heard other shots close to us,” she said, choking up. “That’s when he got Keith.”
His Coworkers Said He Made ‘The Ultimate Sacrifice’
City workers for Virginia Beach Public Utilities were preparing to end their work week when a longtime employee began “indiscriminately firing” on them at about 4:15 p.m. Friday.
Some barricaded themselves in their offices. Others called 911. Still more fled.
Cox stood his ground.
In cases of horrible tragedies, human nature turns toward asking “Why?” To answer that question, we often look to the person who perpetrated the violence, as though we can recognize a killer if we study his face, as though we can stop it from happening to us or to the ones we love. We turn away from the bloodshed and think of all the reasons why it can’t happen to us.
But if we turn away, forget, and carry on, we might miss the solution, and we might miss a hero worth remembering.
Those who knew Keith Cox say that was just his nature.
Greg Rosenberg wrote on Facebook: “I have another friend who knew him as well. She said he always went out of his way to acknowledge and help people. It doesn’t come as a surprise he did what he did. May he, and all the rest of the victims rest in peace.”
The character former coworkers described to The Virginian-Pilot also points to the character of a man who would willingly sacrifice himself for others.
“He was a gentleman and would do anything for you,” said Michele Butler.
Former colleague Holly Elliot only worked with Cox briefly, nearly 20 years ago. But she still remembers his kindness and helpful nature.
“I sat just a few desks away from him,” Elliott told The Virginian-Pilot. “I haven’t seen him since I left there but I remember him as a kind, soft-spoken man who was very helpful to me during my short time there. That entire department of people were a great group of folks to work with.”
Cox and Dewar started work on the same day. Any time she was having a rough day, he was there for comfort, she told The Washington Post.
“He was the type of person who — you know he would lay down his life for you, and that’s exactly what he did,” Dewar said. “On Friday, he gave his life to save seven of us.”
Survivor’s Sister Said His Story Must Be Told
Stockton said she is indebted to Cox’s family and wants to find a way to give back.
She told his family his story must be told to acknowledge the act of pure selflessness in the midst of senseless violence.
“I’m just very thankful that my sister is alive, and there’s no way and no how I can thank this gentleman,” she said. “I’d do anything for his parents. I’m indebted to his family. Their son saved my sister’s life.”
Stockton waited for hours to hear from her sister after news broke of the shooting. Panic set in when she saw her sister’s car on the news surrounded by police.
She struggled to find words to describe her feelings when she learned her sister probably would have died if not for Cox.
“It’s just tragic. There are other people that we knew who were victims,” she said.
She wants Cox’s heroism to be acknowledged, she said.
“I know there are more heroes to this story, but the ones that don’t get acknowledged are the quiet ones. I just want to make sure this man gets the acknowledgement he deserves,” she said.
He was the Son of a Local Preacher and Sang in His Church Choir
He was known as “the golden voice” at New Hope Baptist Church, where his father also preached, according to The Washington Post.
Cox’s father, Dr. E. Ray Cox Sr., is the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Virginia Beach.
“My heart is hurting because my baby brother was murdered today by the shooter in Virginia Beach mass shooting,” Ervin Cox Jr., Keith Cox’s brother, wrote on Facebook. “I won’t hears (sic) his beautiful singing voice at church or home anymore. I loved my brother and will truly miss his caring soul. Until we meet again in heaven.”
Read more about his life and background here.