Christi Dewar, 60, was with Ryan Keith Cox, a friend and colleague, on May 31 when they heard gunshots. They made it to the break room with six other colleagues.
Cox urged the group to stay hidden as he surveyed the hallway.
“If at all possible, I knew he was going to lead us to safety. We felt safe. He stayed calm. He didn’t have any anxious thought in his voice,” Dewar told The Virginian-Pilot.
When he saw no one, he told the group to go into a nearby office.
“I said, ‘Keith, come on,'” Dewar said. “He said, ‘I’ve got to see if anybody else needs help.’ He said: ‘Barricade the door. Do it now.'”
The group pushed filing cabinets against the door. The shooter soon fired four shots at the door. The group then heard a fifth shot.
“Two bullets almost came through the back of the cabinet,” Dewar told NPR. “We fell to the ground; then we heard other shots close to us. That’s when he got Keith.”
She caught sight of Cox’s body when law enforcement officials arrived and escorted them out.
“As we went down the stairwell,” Dewar said, “I had to step over one of my friends.”
She remembered Cox as a good friend.
“I called him my big teddy bear,” Dewar said. “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 called Cox a guardian angel and a hero.
“If it wasn’t for him there would have been several more people that had perished,” she told WAVY.
“He was a hero. A guardian angel that walked this earth that didn’t deserve to leave us so soon.”
Cox was the son of E. Ray Cox, a pastor at 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,” said his brother Ervin Cox in a post on Facebook. “I won’t hear 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.”
Kenneth Robinson, a former music minister at the church, also posted about the death, writing that Cox was part of the choir at the church.
“I served as minister of music there for several years. Keith was one of my main go to lead singers!! His beautiful voice and spirit will be dearly missed!! Thoughts and prayers are going up for the Cox family and the entire New Hope Baptist Church Family,” he wrote on Facebook.
Bishop Ezekiel Williams of Faith World Ministries in Norfolk told the Pilot that Cox served at New Hope with his father, in addition to singing in the choir.
“They were close. Very, very loving family,” Williams said. “This family has been just leaders in the church world and our hearts go out to them during this time of loss, as well as all of the victims that were affected from this tragedy yesterday. Rev. Cox and his wife and his sons are good individuals.”
Michele Butler, a former co-worker, said that Cox was known for being kind.
“He was a really sweet guy. Always opening the doors for us ladies,” Butler said. “He was a gentleman and would do anything for you. He will be missed just as the other victims.”