NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The 17-year-old boy killed by a suspect on a shooting rampage in Norfolk Friday night was on his way home from graduation activities.
Mark Rodriguez was inside his vehicle on Chesapeake Boulevard when police say he was shot and killed by 29-year-old James Brown. He was the first victim of a series of incidents caused by Brown that left three people dead, including the gunman and a police officer.
The teen was a rising senior at Norfolk Christian Schools, and was on his way home to Virginia Beach after supporting friends at the school’s graduation ceremony. He had just dropped a friend off in Norfolk when he lost his life.
“Mr. Rodriguez was in a vehicle. Mr. Brown was in a vehicle. Mr. Brown was randomly shooting from his vehicle, and Mr. Rodriguez was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” explained Norfolk Police Chief Michael Goldsmith at a press conference Saturday morning.
And now hundreds of parents, faculty, and staff, have lost a young man they say was a shining star. His former teacher said Rodriguez was wise beyond his years, a leader in the classroom and in church.
“All of us who interacted with him just saw a very special young man with great talents and great gifts that we believe God used in a powerful way, even if he was only allowed to be here for 17 years,” said Pat McCarty, Head of Norfolk Christian Schools.
Among many things, Mark was a photographer. He posted beautiful pictures to his blog, but sometimes, he posted his thoughts, too. He wrote about his passion for photography, people, and God.
“By opening my eyes to the world around me, I began to realize how blessed I am and how much I take for granted. Within a couple of years, I developed a love for people and decided I wanted to show these people how awesome they are, and challenged myself to capture their personalities and passions in photography.”
Just a few weeks ago, Mark wrote a post about heaven. He explained the joys he thought Heaven would hold and his excitement to one day be there in the presence of God — never knowing that day would come so soon.
“It wells my eyes with tears of joy every now and then,” Mark wrote. “What a beautiful thought that one day I will be completely in the presence of God and will actually be able to feel the magnitude of His love and peace with no earthly fears or worries to distract me.”
McCarty emailed the blog post out to the Norfolk Christian community Saturday, and now it’s bringing peace to those reeling from his sudden and tragic loss. Those that knew and loved Mark say they’re confident he’s now in Heaven.
“We take great comfort in knowing we know where he is. He wrote about it,” McCarty said.
Unlike many peers, McCarty said Mark wasn’t afraid to show his faith. He often led music ministry at Norfolk Christian Schools and was a member of the praise and worship team.
“He takes a strong stand, and unlike many teenagers was very vocal about his strong belief in Jesus Christ and his strong faith,” McCarty said.
McCarty said when he read the post Saturday morning – just hours after mark was killed — it amazed him, and he thinks it may have amazed a higher power, too.
“It was almost like God said, ‘you have done well.’ And God may have called him home because he felt like he had done what he needed to do, and he left behind a legacy here at Norfolk Christian that will carry on for years and years,” McCarty said.
McCarty hopes Mark’s leadership will shine as an example for others as they cope with the tragedy of losing such a positive influence at the school and in the community. The school opened its doors Sunday to anyone needing to grieve. Counselors were on hand in the afternoon.
Mark leaves behind his parents and three younger siblings.
Sunday there was a prayer service at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, where Mark’s father, Carlos, serves as a pastor and Rodriguez played bass guitar for services. The church has established the Mark A Rodriguez Memorial Fund to benefit the family. If you’re interested in helping the family in other ways, you can contact the church at office@redeemerVB.com.
A Memorial Celebration service for Mark has been planned for Wednesday, June 4 at 1 p.m. at Tabernacle Church in Norfolk.
Pat McCarty, Head of Norfolk Christian Schools, sent the following message to families and staff:
Dear Norfolk Christian Families and Staff,
It is with an indescribably heavy heart that I must share some tragic news with you. What we expected to be an evening of happy memories has taken a turn none of us could have prepared for and only our Sovereign God can understand. Rising Norfolk Christian senior Mark Rodriguez was senselessly killed on his way home from graduation festivities last night.
We know little, except that Mark was apparently in his car and involved in a random shooting incident. The shooter went on to kill one Norfolk police officer and wound a second before later being shot and killed himself.
I have been praying, weeping and trying to process this information for hours. Knowing that Mark’s sweet smile is looking at the face of the Savior he loves, knowing that his worship is sweeter than he ever imagined, does not help my heart accept that we have lost him for a time. I cannot fathom what God is asking of Carlos & Leigh Ellen and their children today; I cannot fathom what He is asking of our students and staff who loved Mark so dearly. I can only fall on my face before our Heavenly Father and pray that His Name be glorified, begging Him to provide the peace that passes understanding He promises.
We will be opening the High School campus tomorrow, Sunday, at 2pm for our Norfolk Christian community to gather and pray. Grief Counselors will be available to everyone. Until then, please join me in praying unceasingly for the Rodriguez family, as well as the young family of Brian Jones, the Norfolk police officer killed in the line of duty last night.
Those who knew Mark will understand how fitting it is that he would be the one to encourage us in this moment. Below is a blog post Mark wrote just a few weeks ago. May it make us all look forward to a glorious future with no pain, no sadness, only joy.
To God Be the Glory,
Head of School