Ryan Keith Cox, a Virginia Beach mass shooting victim, found safety as shots rang out in his workplace Friday. But then he left the refuge to save more lives.
“This gentleman got seven or eight women to safety. One was my sister,” Bobbie Stockton of Norfolk told Heavy.
Stockton’s sister, Christi Dewar, survived the shooting, along with at least six others who Cox led to safety in a break room at Building 2 of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center Friday afternoon.
Read more about his heroism here.
Dewar and Cox, who his friends called Keith, were close. They started work on the same day almost 13 years ago as account clerks for public utilities.
The two had desks close to each other, and fled the shooting together. After finding safety, Dewar realized he wasn’t planning to stay.
“He said, ‘You’re safe now. You stay,’ and then went to get others,” Stockton said.
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‘He Saved My Sister,’ Said Norfolk Woman
Stockton heard on the news that an active shooter was at her sister’s office. Reality set in when she saw her sister’s car on the news surrounded by police with weapons drawn.
It was several hours before Stockton was able to hear her sister’s voice.
She struggled to verbalize her feelings when she learned her sister would probably have been among the dead if it wasn’t for the heroic acts of one man.
“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.”
Cox Left Safety To Save Others
As Stockton awaited news about her sister, Cox was leading her and six others to safety.
The suspect, a longtime public works employee, began “firing indiscriminately” on all levels of the building at about 4:15 p.m. Friday, as city employees were preparing to end their work week. He was armed with two .45-caliber handguns equipped with silencers and extended magazines so he could keep reloading, Virginia Beach Police Chief James A. Cervera said in a press conference.
The first thing Dewar remembered hearing was a woman scream, “active shooter!” It must be a drill, she thought, and noise from the building’s renovation project.
“When we heard the first shots, it sounded like a nail gun going off,” Dewar told NPR.
She and Cox, her longtime friend, began to realize what was happening. They moved away from the sound of gunshots until a coworker ran by, urging them 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.”
Police arrived shortly after Dewar called 911. One of the officers led her down the steps, telling her not to look down.
“As we went down the stairwell,” Dewar told NPR, “I had to step over one of my friends.”
Cox was A ‘Big Teddy Bear,” Dewar Said
Dewar and Cox were close friends after working in the same department for nearly 13 years. He was a person she often went to for comfort and friendship.
“I called him my big teddy bear,” Dewar said to NPR. “Every time I was upset, he would give me a hug. When I was upset about something, he knew exactly what to say to make you smile. He’s the type of person who you know would lay down his life for someone, just like he did.”
She never expected the suspect, who she also knew well, would ever become the perpetrator of one of America’s deadliest workplace shootings.
“He was very well dressed. He was soft-spoken,” she said. “If he had a gun behind his back and he walked up to me, I would’ve gone up to talk to him,” she said. “I would have no way of knowing.”
She told NPR he acted methodically, like he had a plan.
Dewar and Stockton addressed the need for security in the building. Dewar told NPR she thinks the building needs metal detectors. She wouldn’t mind being searched as she came into work if it would keep everyone safe, she said.
Stockton told Heavy employees wore badges in the office, but there was no additional security. Because it was a public building serving the community, people outside of employees often came and went.
“Even that gentleman that worked there probably had his badge on,” she said.
Survivor’s Sister ‘Indebted’ To Victim’s Family
Stockton has reached out to Cox’s family, saying she wants to do something to help.
At the very least, she wants to tell his story so people know about the selfless act that occurred amidst senseless, brutal violence.
“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.
She said they are still reeling from the tragedy.
“It’s just tragic. There are other people that we knew who were victims,” she said.
Her wife’s sister-in-law was also among the survivors, Stockton said. For now, they are trying to move forward and take a day to “relax.” She took her wife out for Sunday brunch and said she is giving her sister “some peace.”
The shooting hit the community hard, she said, calling the community and her sister’s workplace “very, very tight-knit.”
“A lot of those victims were very close and very dear to her heart,” she said.
Survivors Flood Social Media With Stories of Heroism
“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.”
Stockton also commented on the brother’s post, saying “Your brother is a hero …
He saved his fellow employees and went to help others ..
My sister is one of the people he got to safety….
I will be forever thankful for his actions but sad for the loss of his life ….
I am doing my best to make sure that his Courageous act of love and life will not go unnoticed…
He is a true hero and I hope with all my efforts he is acknowledged…
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family….
Ryan Keith Cox a true man of courage and a hero…
May he Rest In Peace…
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.”
Read more about his life and background here.