It seems fruitless on this day to comment on the “inside baseball” of the state budget process or the academic climate within higher education. There are other days and other weeks for those serious conversations.
This week, all such policy discussions take a back seat to the briefness of life.
Today I turned my thoughts to my disbelief and anger over what occurred Monday at Virginia Tech. We were all shocked as news began to circulate that a gunman – in two separate shootings – killed 32 students and professors and then later himself, leaving 33 dead in all. The gunman was identified Tuesday as Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student originally from South Korea. Many at Virginia Tech described Cho as a “loner.”
The massacre has been described as the worst shooting massacre in American history. It brings back the distressing memories of past school shootings such as the University of Texas massacre in 1966 that killed 15 people and Columbine, which occurred eight years ago this week, where 15 people were killed, including the two shooters.
“Your loved ones are valued members of the Virginia Tech family and they can never be replaced,” Virginia Tech Vice President for Student Affairs Zenobia Hikes said during a memorial service held at the school Tuesday.
In our frustrations, we ask ourselves the question of how a tragedy like this could take place. The frustrations of those closer to the Virginia Tech community have led to a chorus of questions.
Most of those questions appear to be centered on Virginia Tech’s response to the first attack and the two hours in between shootings. It’s believed that Cho, in that two-hour time frame, was able to return to his dorm room where he reloaded and wrote a note in which he blamed debauchery and affluence for the day’s events.
Even as students were trying to figure out Monday if their friends were alive, the media, assembled in Blacksburg, Va., had already begun to play the blame game, seeking to place school officials in the role of a leader asleep at the wheel. Some wondered why students and others weren’t notified more promptly after the first attack. They said the school should have been placed in lockdown sooner.
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said the school operated under the assumption that the first shooting was a domestic violence incident and that there was no reason to believe a future attack was imminent.
“We thought we had it under control, and I don’t think anyone could have predicted another event was going to take place two hours later,” Steger has said in his defense.
Questioning Virginia Tech officials for their response comes from the benefit of knowing the final play in the game. That’s how you play Monday Morning Quarterback. Those who play the role of the second guesser are able to sit and react, knowing how the events transpired.
We don’t know how we would react if we were placed in the shoes of Virginia Tech officials. Steger and his administration should be applauded for getting out information, as they had it, to students and the entire community. The tragedy could have been made worse, if that’s even thinkable, had school officials not provided what information they did to the campus community.
Yet the questions are valid and should be raised at the appropriate time. Today is not that time.
Today is a time for mourning and reflection on the lives lost. Among the 32 innocent lives lost in Monday’s shooting was Livlu Librescu, 76, a Holocaust survivor and professor who allegedly guarded a doorway into a classroom as Cho approached so his students could escape. Resident Advisor Ryan Clark, who was killed during the first shooting, has been remembered as a caring guy and good listener.
There are 30 other similar stories about the remaining victims.
There are also the stories of the student body coming together as a community in this time of tragedy. One student said Tuesday in an NBC interview, “You can’t turn (the shooting) into one defining moment. There is more to the story. There is always more to us. At the end of the day, we’re still the Virginia Tech Hokies.”
Our focus today should be on the lives lost and the hope for a better and safer future.
To attempt to place blame on anyone right how — other than the cunningly evil killer — is pointless. The Virginia Tech community doesn’t need any further grief.