Friday, April 16, 2010

April 16, 2007, as seen from 2010

I was working in the greenhouse complex at Virginia Tech that day in April 2007. We had heard sirens racing across campus earlier that morning and finally the sheer number of emergency vehicles speeding down the street prompted us to turn on the radio. We were stunned to hear the campus radio station playing an unending loop of nondescript instrumental music while the announcer broke in every minute or so to say there had been a shooting on campus with casualties and everyone should stay where they were. Campus is big, and without any other information it wasn't difficult to imagine that whatever had occurred, it must have occurred someplace distant from where we worked. An exaggerated lovers' spat with perhaps only an injury, or maybe just another rumor. After all, we had just gone through the drama with William Morva, the escaped prisoner who shot a deputy and a security guard to death before being captured close to campus at the start of the fall semester just last August. Lightning couldn't strike twice so soon again, right?

It wasn't long before the radio announcer began to state the number of dead and we were incredulous at how the tally kept growing. The facilities manager for the greenhouses knocked on the back door, startling us. We let him in but he only wanted to tell us to keep all the doors locked and not to let anyone else inside before he left to lock himself into his own office. It was a raw, brisk day with snow swirling around. The wind kept catching the heavy metal door to our lab and slamming it against the lock as if someone was trying to force his way inside. We spent the morning in shock and disbelief, nominally working but really just going through the motions. Finally at noon we were instructed to leave our building and go home directly. As I drove the 460 bypass towards Christiansburg, I saw state trooper after state trooper speeding towards campus. It wasn't until I got home that afternoon and saw the news coverage that I fully understood what had transpired on campus early that morning. The first murders occurred in a dorm only several blocks down the street from where we worked. I couldn't really react or talk about it, but I cried in the shower that night. I was nearly 8 months pregnant and the idea of not being able to protect the baby from danger, even though no one could predict something as random as a massacre by a deranged student, scared me deeply.

Even now, three years later, the memories are still fresh and weirdly surreal, as when you wake up suddenly from a nightmare. There's no sense in railing against the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, who took his own life after killing 32 others and causing injuries to more than 20 others. We don't know why Cho selected his victims or exactly what his motive was. Cho was clearly a deeply fractured individual. We'll never know if counseling, therapy, or hospitalization would have healed him in any way if it had been given to him. All we do know is that there are 32 limestone markers placed in a semicircle as a memorial in front of Burruss Hall and we hope that we never again experience the horror of that day in April 2007.

Weeping Cherry, VT campus, April 2009

No comments: