( 4 Votes )

Dakota RigsbyHundreds assembled at the Fluvanna County High School (FCHS) on Saturday (July 1) to say goodbye to Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Rigsby.

Rigsby, 19, was one of seven sailors killed in a collision between the destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the container ship ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan on June 17. 

A 2015 graduate of FCHS and Lake Monticello volunteer firefighter, his body was escorted back to the school early in the morning in a procession led by at least a dozen law enforcement officers on motorcycles. The Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer group that serves as honor guards for military and first-responder funerals, lined the entrance.

By 12:30 p.m. several hundred people had arrived for the funeral service, including family, friends, classmates, fellow first responders, and local officials. Representative Tom Garrett (R-5th District) was overseas and unable to attend, but sent a note and two U.S. flags.

Andrew Pullen, Garrett’s political director, told reporters, “We are heartbroken. It’s a tragedy, and our hearts and prayers are with the family.”

Pullen, a fire chief in Kents Store, said the large turnout was not a surprise. “Fluvanna County as a whole is very supportive of their neighbors and community,” he said.
The funeral service lasted for just over an hour and was followed later by a private graveside service at an undisclosed cemetery.

Delegate Rob Bell (R-58th District) attended the funeral service and described it as “bittersweet.” Two especially moving moments for him were a speech from Rigsby’s young fiancée, fellow Fitzgerald crew member Jacqueline Langlais, and the showing of the video of Rigsby’s 2016 swearing-in ceremony.

“It was very moving to see that was the moment when he said, ‘I am prepared to dedicate my life to the United States Navy and all the risk that entails,’” said Bell. “He saw it as his calling.”

Bell expects there will be efforts to “memorialize his sacrifice and make sure [community members] don’t forget him.”

The U.S. Navy and the Japanese Coast Guard have launched investigations into the cause of the collision, the largest single loss of life aboard a Navy ship since the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

The English-language newspaper Japan Times has reported that the area where the crash took place is a known “chokepoint” where large ships have little room to maneuver around one another.

It is not yet clear why the ships did not seem to see each other on radar before the collision occurred.