Virginia Tech 16 April 2007
A big part of me remains in Virginia so Virginia Tech is still an important part of my life even though I went to That Other state university. Many friends went to Tech, I have fond memories of good times spent in Blacksburg. Two years ago, when Montreal, Kutsa and I came off the Appalachian Trail for a night in town, that town was Blacksburg. Our ride from the trail was a long time local resident and very proud of Virginia Tech; he gave us a campus tour and even took us back to the trail the following morning. It's that kind of place. Now, along with all those fine memories, the massacre is part of the record.
I immediately put myself in those buildings, wondering what it was like, wondering what I would do. Infantry training taught me to attack an ambush but the professors and students (which is what I would be in that building) don't know that. They've never experienced that kind of murderous mayhem. As the story emerged, people did resist in whatever way they could against a well-armed, rampaging killer. In that extreme siutation, everyone did the best they could. The killer pulled off a perfect ambush so fatalities were inevitable. I wish more had survived. I'm happy that the death toll wasn't higher.
NPR ran a story this morning about the campus police who were the first responders and their reaction to criticism about how they handled the case. Campus police are frustrated with the criticism and cite their policies and procedures to demonstrate that they did exactly what they were supposed to do. The Blacksburg police chief, whose forces also participated in the rescue after the second round of killings, noted that many officers have worked long hours in a traumatic situation and have yet to deal with their own reactions much less what they consider second guessing of their performance in an unknown, deadly situation.
The only real question I have is with the policy. The officers on the scene were following routine when they should have been prepared to deal with the unthinkable: that the shooter could be a mass murderer. That's the job of leaders and managers. Had some one acted on the fact that the shooter was still on the loose, perhaps lives would have been saved. That's iffy since there was no description of the killer early on. I wonder what the mail clerk who accepted his package between killings noticed or recalls, if something looked odd that in retrospect was a clue. I doubt if Cho wore his armament into the P.O. Once in Norris Hall with doors chained closed, he was a very effective killer. His rampage did not take long.
My question is why no one thought to warn the community that a murderer was at large. Until the police could clearly identify and apprehend the shooter, the community is at risk and should be warned (not panicked)to be cautious and alert, to recognize the odd, significant sign, perhaps, and call in tips that may assist in locating and apprehending the shooter. I don't consider my question to be second guessing so much as asking how communities will plan to deal with this mayhem in the future. I would prefer that people like the killer not obtain such lethal force but in the meantime, how will the community leaders and managers deal with the all too predictable consequences of such freely available firepower?
Questions aside, I agree that the responders acted valiantly and well. At least, in what I do know of their actions. I saw them racing bodies out of the buildings. I saw them anxiously waiting, weapons at the ready. Tense. Worried. Whatever shortcomings that may have occurred in that desparate time and place do not detract from the courage and skill of the police, rescue and medical responders on that day. I write a lot about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in these pages and know that many in the Virginia Tech community, including its public safety personnel, will have long, difficult memories of April 16. I hope all affected will come to terms with the demons unleashed that day. For some, I am sure it will be very difficult.
The attack hit me close to home. A place, a community and many who are important to me were wounded April 16. None of the names were familiar but I know that many lost family and close friends that day. Their loss is part of my own. I recognize victims' hometowns. I know where they lived. I see the mountains and valleys surrounding Blacksburg. I feel that cold, hard wind I see in the photos. I morn the loss of so many fine people and the gaping hole left in the Virginia Tech community. I know that the community will recover as certainly as I know none will ever forget.
Go Hokies! Godspeed!