Artists offer free tattoos to Virginia Beach shooting survivors, first responders: ‘It feels amazing’

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Ernesto Moreno, a city-zoning inspector, worked inside Building Two at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. It was the same building a disgruntled employee shot and killed 12 of his colleagues, WTKR reported. 

He had scars from that day, but on Saturday that scar became the base for a new tattoo -- the "Death Star" from Stars Wars, "signifying how something that was destroyed was still functional.

“At first I didn’t think of a tattoo for this," Moreno explained, "but when I thought about it, this would be a good idea for me.”

The tattoo was a method of healing. Moreno was one of several at the Virginia Beach Police Department's Law Enforcement Training Academy with scars and wounds that turned into works of art on Saturday.

The event was called Healing Ink and was made possible through a collaborative effort between tattoo artists, law enforcement, 'Artists 4 Israel' and the Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

Matthew Mitchell, a Virginia Beach Sheriff's Deputy, said he was not there on May 31. He said he remembers his phone ringing endlessly.

“I was actually driving home and my phone just started going crazy," Mitchell said. "I had to have at least 20, 30 texts from everybody.”

The tattoos were free. There were several tables with each table consisting of an artist and a client. Craig Dershowitz, the CEO of 'Artists 4 Israel', said tattoos are a way of healing.

“What tattooing does, it’s a sign. It’s a sense of independence, like 'I’m here and it’s my life,'" Dershowitz said.

The tattoo clients were a mix of law enforcement and city employees. Some of the artists were local, some were from out of state, and others such as Edit Bengita and her husband, Avihoo, are from Israel.

“It feels amazing because we get to give them something special that they can look at and then remember it as something good and not something bad," Bengita said.

She said she and her husband can connect to their clients as they have seen the effects of violence that have happened in Israel. The artists volunteered their time and sacrificed their schedules to renew hope among those who survived the tragedy.

“It may have been six months ago, but the fact that people are still willing to dedicate their time to us," Moreno explained, "realizing that this is something that we’re over, it just means a lot.”

The event continues into Sunday. Those whom received tattoos were selected in a special process to see who would qualify.

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