Campus reacts to Virginia Tech massacre
Aaron Steiner | Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Virginia Tech is more than 500 miles from Notre Dame, but the effects of what reports call the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history have been felt here on campus.
A lone gunman shot and killed more than 30 people and injured dozens more on the Blacksburg, Va., campus before committing suicide Monday, according to Associated Press reports. Officials told AP that the gunman killed two people in a dormitory approximately two hours before staging a separate attack on a classroom building.
Nearly 30 people were estimated to have been injured, according to area hospital officials, CNN reported.
The Notre Dame community is saddened by the tragedy, Assistant Vice President of News and Information Dennis Brown said Monday.
“Our prayers go out to any people affected,” Brown said.
Notre Dame will hold a memorial Mass for the victims tonight at 10 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Brown noted that members of the administration know people at Virginia Tech and said the University sends its support and prayers.
Students reported hearing the news through various sources throughout the day Monday, with some hearing from friends and family directly tied to Virginia Tech.
Graduate student Patrick LaFratta, a 2005 Virginia Tech alumnus who said one of his friends had died in the shootings, said he had been in contact with friends from the school throughout the day by phone and online.
LaFratta said he first heard the news of the shootings from his girlfriend, a Virginia Tech alumna, around 10 a.m. LaFratta confirmed that his girlfriend’s sister, a current Virginia Tech student, was safe, as well as the safety of several close friends.
“When I first heard, they were reporting there was only one death,” LaFratta said. “I thought, ‘It’s a really sad event and I want to know what is going on.'”
Soon, the news coverage took a personal tone.
LaFratta said he eventually heard that one acquaintance had been killed in the first incident in the dorm. By Monday night, LaFratta said he had seen pictures on television of his slain friend.
He said he knew the friend from Virginia Tech’s marching band, where LaFratta played trumpet.
Other students with friends at the school expressed their concern Monday afternoon.
Sophomore Amelia Gillespie heard the news from her roommate before going to class Monday morning.
“I was in shock. I have a couple of friends that go there, and I’m still waiting to hear back from them,” Gillespie said. “I tried to call them, but they haven’t called back. I think they’re okay, because I’ve heard from other friends.”
Freshman Tracy Jennings also has friends at Virginia Tech.
“One of my friends called me around 2 p.m.,” said Jennings, who is from Richmond, Va.
The friend who initially called Jennings was not a student there, but the freshman received calls from Virginia Tech students shortly thereafter.
“As soon as one friend called, another did, and more,” Jennings said.
The students couldn’t give many details about the incident, she said.
“All [they] said was that there was a shooting … and at least 20 kids had been killed and at least 20 injured,” she said. “As far as I’ve heard, everyone I know is OK.”
Jennings said she couldn’t contact some of her friends there Monday afternoon because phone lines were busy.
Monica Tarnawski, a sophomore, said she heard here from a friend who attends Virginia Tech Monday afternoon through the social networking Web site Facebook.
“She actually composed a note that said ‘I’m fine,’ and we all saw it,” Tarnawski said.
Like Tarnawski, Jennings and Gillespie, LaFratta said that initially, all reports about his friends had been positive – until later Monday evening, when he first heard his friend had been killed.
LaFratta was watching television news coverage of the shooting when he learned there were more deaths that initially reported.
“At around 12:15 p.m. or so … all of a sudden, one of the three [channels] reported that there were at least 20 dead,” LaFratta said. “I just really hoped it was a mistake.”
LaFratta said he soon realized the situation was much more complex than the initial single death, and he said he then felt a “tremendous amount of sorrow.”
LaFratta took classes in the academic building where the majority of the deaths occurred.
“A few years ago, I was there,” LaFratta said. “It hits home – these things really do happen.”
LaFratta said it was hard to imagine a scare on Virginia Tech’s campus last year while a convict was loose in the area. This tragedy, he said, is even harder to picture.
“The magnitude of the event is just so overwhelming,” LaFratta said.
LaFratta said he would have never predicted anything like this at a campus he described as “exceptionally peaceful.”
Students at Notre Dame said they feel safe on campus but recognize that an event like Monday’s could happen at anywhere, Notre Dame included.
“Things like that, especially on television – it seems so far away … [but] I think it could happen anywhere,” said Chris Heckett, a visiting graduate student. “To think otherwise would probably be thoughtless.”
Erin Smith, a senior, echoed Heckett’s thoughts.
“It makes you realize that it could happen anywhere, on any college campus,” she said. “It kind of makes you think about the security here at Notre Dame, or at any college campus.”
Brown declined to comment on Notre Dame’s policies or crisis management plans for any type of violent tragedy like the one Monday morning.
But Smith said she has never felt anxious about security at Notre Dame.
“I’ve never felt unsafe at Notre Dame,” Smith said.
Senior Paul Mitchell agreed.
“I still feel as safe here as anywhere,” Mitchell said, stating, however, that his notions of safety do not make Notre Dame exempt from violence like Monday’s tragedy.
Virginia Tech, with an enrollment of more than 25,000, is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, 160 miles west of Richmond, Va. Jennings said Virginia Tech’s location as a college town – not part of a large urban area – makes her think about Notre Dame’s similar setting.
“Honestly, Tech … is in the middle of nowhere – and it seems kind of like South Bend, which is a scary thought, being here. It’s a pretty enclosed campus, like here,” she said.
Gillespie said the incident “kind of just puts things into perspective.”
“It makes me look outside the [Notre Dame] bubble a little bit,” she said. “It’s a small world.”
Sophomore Katie Bergerow said the tragedy caused her and her roommates to consider their safety in the residence halls.
“We were talking about how we leave our door unlocked,” Bergerow said. They probably wouldn’t change that behavior, she said, but the tragedy “really shows that something like this could happen.”
Students are also lucky to have a variety of support resources available, said Gaotam Shewakramani, a Notre Dame alumnus visiting campus. He said such resources could help avert a violent crisis, especially those available to students who are struggling emotionally.
“I think there are a lot of resources for those who are having difficulties,” Shewakramani said. “I would be surprised if someone [who is struggling] wouldn’t be reached out to.”
Still, Tarnawski said, it’s important to remember that you can’t know what people are feeling.
“You never know what people are going through inside,” Tarnawski said. “Someone after my English class was like, ‘You know, I just wonder what was going on in that person’s life that caused them to snap.'”
That same thought crossed Mitchell’s mind as well.
“My first question was why – why would someone do that, just asking questions to the psychology of that and what enables that sort of violence,” Mitchell said.
Monday’s massacre will go down as the deadliest campus shooting in national history. Previously, the largest was a rampage that took place in 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin, where 16 people were killed before police shot the gunman to death.
As the facts of yesterday’s tragedy are investigated, some students say while there is little they can do, they can send their prayers and support.
“Right now, I’m here to offer any type of support I can, get involved, bring any type of awareness,” Gillespie said.
LaFratta said he has done “a lot of praying” and will continue to do so.
“My first reaction is to pray a lot – my thoughts go out to all those families,” LaFratta said.
LaFratta said he plans to attend tonight’s memorial Mass.