VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - On Friday, the Congressional Medal of Bravery was given to four Virginia Beach Police officers for their role responding the mass shooting on May 31, 2019.
The shooting happened at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center and left 12 people, including 11 city employees and a contractor, dead; five people physically injured and hundreds more impacted.
During the tragic incident, first responders entered the building as shots were being fired to protect the people inside.
The four officers, Sergeant Peter Koepp; Sergeant Mark Laino; Officer Bobby Meis and Officer Christopher Watkins, were all presented medals by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) during the presentation of the medal.
"Virginia Beach is a city of heroes, and these four remarkable individuals exemplified that, along with other uniformed men and women," Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer said.
Although the officers say they don’t consider themselves heroes, they say they would give back the awards if it meant the 12 people killed were still alive.
"I’ve known these guys for a very long time, and if we can take these medals away and bring all those victims back, we would in a heartbeat," Officer Meis said.
"Deeply honored. None of us want to be here, honestly. We’re getting an award where a tragedy had to happen. But we acknowledge and appreciate it," Sergeant Laino said.
May 31, 2019, was a day the four officers say they will remember forever.
"I think about it every day," Sergeant Koepp said.
"There were 300 other officers that were there that day and showed. We were just the four that ran into him," Sergeant Laino said.
All four officers say they did a job they signed up to do.
“You look at it, and you've said you wanted to become a police officer. The vast majority of people on the interview panel said, 'I want to go into my community and help people.' Well, it's on days like this that you got to put your money where your mouth is.”
Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate says the officers set an example for the entire department.
"It’s a huge honor. We greatly appreciate it, but it was still a tragic day that changed our community forever," Sergeant Koepp said.
The event was held at the Sandler Center.
Some guests in attendance to honor the officers included Sen. Warner, Rep. Elaine Luria, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Raj Parekh, Mayor Dyer, City Manager Patrick Duhaney and Chief Neudigate.