Monday, April 16, 2007

Ruination Day

“There’s been a shooting on campus. You all get the hell out of here! Go home!”

Those were the words of my boss as he broke the news to me and my coworker that a gunman was on the loose at Virginia Tech, a couple of blocks away from our office. At about that time, we received a call from a friend that works within the local police department, “…reports are there is an Asian kid wearing a bulletproof vest, carrying multiple guns. Eight people are dead and 24 injured”.

By now, we know that those number of individuals shot dead in cold blood stands at an official 31. ABC News is reporting 32 dead. It’s the second worst school fatality event since 1927 when bombings killed 45 in Michigan. Local hospitals are overrun with injuries. To complicate medical logistics, wind gust of up to 60 mph kept the med-evac helicopters grounded. Besides the shooting victims, scores of students leaped from second and third story windows to escape the classrooms that they were trapped in. One bus driver for Blacksburg Transit was making his rounds this morning when he reported, on local television, that he saw people running toward the bus, others carrying students with their legs dangling, broken from the jump. To his credit, the bus became a makeshift triage as it sped toward the hospital. It appears that most of the student casualties in one particular engineering computer lab were the target of this sick individual’s rage. Police reports refer to the lab as a bloodbath.

As a personal note, when I was informed about the shooting, I grabbed my phone. My wife and brother were in class at the time. My wife, as I would later find out, left her phone at the house. She made it off campus before buildings were locked down. My brother was on his way home after being told to leave campus during class. I just found out from a phone call that a friend of a friend was shot. His status was not known, other than he was transported to a hospital [as of 9:00pm, was pronounced dead]. Not all victims were students. The town is in a state of shock, disbelief, anger and grief. For those that don’t know, Blacksburg is a small town with a big college. I’m sure over the next few days I’ll learn of more people I know that knew someone injured, shot or killed. Until last summer, when an escaped prisoner shot and killed two law officers, the largest crimes that took place were mainly drunken student fights and vandalism. Who knows if I ever made eye contact with any of the victims on my walks around campus and downtown?

Today, the Appalachian spirit of semper liberi, living free, has been shattered for our community and region. Sure, we’ll have certain civil liberties under scrutiny for the coming weeks but I’m thinking more of our quality of life. Students, faculty and staff at Virginia Tech lost a piece of their freedom from fear today. They lost their, albeit false, sense of security in small town America. Events that we think only take place in large cities and overseas war zones have found their way to our mountains.

Two poetic writings have been rolling through my head this afternoon as the death toll has risen:

No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were:
any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls;
it tolls for thee.

John Donne
Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, no. 17
1624 (published)

And Don McLean’s ending of innocence epic, American Pie…

A long, long time ago...
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.


Our Goblin Market said...

Mike, I cannot believe what has happened today. I hope that your family and friends are well. I also hope for some sort of peace for the families whose son or daughter, brother or sister, friend or loved one that came into this day a victim of a darkness we will never understand. My thoughts are with you all.

Anonymous said...

An eloquent post, and your choice of John Donne fitting. Our thoughts and condolences go to you in Blacksburg.

Mike Mason said...

Thanks. If you're the spiritual type, say a word of prayer for the families of the victims and those parents that can't reach their sons and daughters. The cell phone service is fair, at best, in Blacksburg and when you have students, law and medical authorities and media vultures, the system shuts down.
As for the media. Go home! They want to blame VT security / admin. They want a fall guy right away. How about the shooter?!?! The word is the first shooting was called into 911 as a fall from a bunk-bed injury, presumably by the shooter, to throw off the urgency of the matters. National TV faces want to know why the students weren't warned? Because no one really knew what was going on before it was too late.
I've also heard that the shooter chained and pad-locked the doors to Norris Hall to hold in his victims and keep authorities out. Unreal.

Jeremy Peters said...

This is one of those events that shakes you to your core and makes you consider how fragile life really is. All of these unsuspecting people rose from their beds this morning not knowing it would be their last.
It gives me chills to think of the times I have been on the campus, not suspecting anything of this sort could ever occur.
It also brings to mind shootings from other schools in the region, the Appalachian School of Law in 2002, and Shepherdstown University last year.
After tragedies such as these, I always find myself trying to imagine what events drive people to such extremes. I'm saddened for the victims, and also saddened for the perpetrator.
I remind myself to try to treat every person with whom I come into contact with kindness, dignity and respect. You never know when it might make a difference.

Pam said...

I lived in Blacksburg for six years, and loved the town, the campus and the wider community - and yesterday I simply couldn't imagine my memories framed against such a horrific event. We all lost a bit of freedom yesterday - and the openness that I love in our society, and loved in the stone buildings of Virginia Tech when I was a student there - that freedom was challenged.

My thoughts today reside in those valleys and mountains.

mainelife said...

No words can adequately express our sorrow--for both VaTech and the town of Blacksburg.
You are all in our thoughts and prayers and will remain there in the days and weeks that follow.

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