Tara McGee and her coworkers had just settled in for their “Power Hour” — that final 60-minute push of the workday — when someone shouted the words McGee never thought she’d hear: “Live shooter!”
She dropped the phone, grabbed her purse and ran, her footsteps clattering with those of the other panicked employees. Account clerk Ryan Keith Cox, 50, took the reins of the confused and frightened group, leading them away from the sounds of gunfire.
Thinking quickly, he directed them into a small office. “It was actually a cubicle,” says McGee, “basically, a room that was nothing but a frame and carpet.”
“‘Okay, push the door shut,’” he commanded. We were calling, ‘Keith, Keith, come on!’” says McGee, 50, of Virginia Beach.
But he wouldn’t. He told the seven women to secure the entrance to the cubicle, turn off the lights, and push a file cabinet against the interior door. They protested, begging him to join them.
“But no,” says McGee. “Keith being Keith, he’s looking after everyone else, as he always does. He was going to make sure everyone was safe.”
McGee knew Cox’s attributes well. He wasn’t just a coworker, he was a cherished friend — “such a good man, so encouraging and positive,” she says. They often spent their breaks together, chatting about weekend plans, cooking, or music, her college-age daughters and his family. They frequently talked about church and God, subjects that McGee (an elder and minister at Faith World Ministries in Norfolk) and Cox (a devout Christian and son of a pastor) both knew well.
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“Whenever he’d pass me in the morning he’d say, ‘Preacher, what’s the word for the day?’ And I would reply, ‘God loves you’ and he would say, ‘God loves you too.”
But on this day, Cox remained outside the room where the seven women huddled on the floor beneath two desks, many with eyes closed, holding hands, quietly texting loved ones. “I just prayed over all of us, whispering,” McGee says. “I said, “Lord, send us an angel of protection.”
There were gunshots; lots of them. “I could tell the difference between the shooter’s versus the police,” McGee says. One of the women connected with a 911 dispatcher, who via silent texts apprised the group of the gunman’s actions. “All of a sudden she said he was back on the second floor, where we were.”
Two bullets were fired into the cubicle door, stemmed by the file cabinet. Then it went silent.
“And then we heard a shot, right on the other side of the cubicle door,” McGee says. There were no voices, no talking.
“I knew that a person had just been shot right then, right there,” says McGee. “I sat up and a tear rolled down my face.”
A massive amount of gunfire followed, and then the 911 operator texted that it was over.
When the cops came to lead the women from the cubicle, they instructed everyone to look to the left. “Do not look to the right,” they said.
“But I did look to the right,” says McGee, “and there was Keith, lying still on the floor. I’d asked God to send an angel of protection and he had. He chose Keith.”