VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — In announcing that his music festival, Something In The Water, would not return to his hometown of Virginia Beach in 2022 earlier this week, Pharrell Williams criticized city leaders, citing a "toxic energy."
Pharrell specifically mentioned the death of his cousin, Donovan Lynch, who was fatally shot by police officers in March. He also criticized the city's response and investigation into the 2019 mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
Now, loved ones of those killed in the 2019 mass shooting are thanking Pharrell for shedding light on the situation.
The city of Virginia Beach claimed it found no motive as to why a shooter went on a rampage inside the Municipal Center on May 31, 2019. Two years later, there is still no public memorial for the 12 employees who were gunned down while at work.
Pharrell's use of the word "toxic" in his letter appears to be intentional —both the FBI and an independent firm used the same word in their reports to describe the work environment within the Virginia Beach city government.
The loved ones of victims from the mass shooting agree that the city has a toxic work culture.
"It is a good old boy system," said Jason Nixon, who lost his wife Kate in the mass shooting. "You had a toxic environment from the top down."
Kate Nixon, an engineer and mother to three girls, wanted to bring a gun to work that day because she was afraid the shooter was looking to retaliate on workplace grievances.
"The city should have been accountable. They knew all about this in 2016 and did nothing," Jason Nixon said.
Nixon, who went to high school with Pharrell, is elated that the singer is taking the city to task.
"I am glad Pharrell came out and put us on a national platform because this is what I have been trying to do from day one," he said. "I felt a sigh of relief. I'm sorry he had to take a personal loss, but it's been a loss to my family and other families."
Denise Smallwood, twin sister of Joshua Hardy, who was also gunned down in the mass shooting, also spoke out on Wednesday.
"I want to thank Pharrell for recognizing the city of Virginia Beach as toxic. How many more lives have to be lost for Virginia Beach to step up and own its issues?" she said. "I thought May 31 would be a wake-up call. However, Virginia Beach never changed. They continued with business as usual."
Joshua Hardy's brother W.E. Hoskins, Jr. also spoke out.
"I cannot criticize Pharrell Williams in recognizing the truth about the city of Virginia Beach," he said. "This is a sad day for me."
"I am thrilled Pharrell has made a stand," said Debbie Borato, who lost her sister Missy Langer in the mass shooting. "Some don't like it. However, it takes money to fight power, and the May 31 families don't have the exposure or the money Pharrell has. There is a right and a wrong here, and Pharrell is right."
This story was originally published by Chelsea Donovan on Scripps station WTKR in Norfolk, Virginia.