You see signs like that all around the area I live in, but if you are from SW VA or in any way connected with the VA Tech community, you don't need a sign to jog your memory.
The morning of April 16, 2007 was like any other day at UVA. Beautiful weather. As I walked out the door that morning, one of my housemates mentioned that there had been a shooting on a Virginia college campus. Neither of us were particularly worried. We would've known by then if the shooting was at our own school, and the news just said that there had been some injuries. I went on my way to class.
About an hour later, my cell phone started ringing like crazy. I excused myself from class when I saw that all of the calls were from my dad, which was unusual. I called him back and all he said was, "Is Joe OK?" I had no clue who or what he was talking about. He asked if I had heard about the shooting. I said yes...C had said something about it this morning but we didn't think it was a big deal. He got very quiet. My dad, a very proud graduate of Virginia Tech, cried for the first time in front of me. Through his tears, he told me that a gunman had locked himself in a classroom building and opened fire. We didn't know how many and we didn't know who.
I know that for everyone in the country, this news in and of itself was tragic and terrifying enough. For me, it was even worse. I grew up in a town about 45 minutes outside of Blacksburg. At least 60% of my high school went on to Virginia Tech. Almost all of my high school friends and many childhood friends were students there. Including my childhood best friend/college housemate's little brother, Joe.
The rest of the day is a blur. I didn't make it back to my classroom until later that night to collect my bags. I immediately went home and started making phone calls, e-mails, Facebook searches....anything I could think of. Slowly I started to hear back from people letting me know they were OK. But as the day went on, I still hadn't heard from my housemate. I will never forget that feeling of helplessness. Finally she walked in the door that night. She obviously knew what I was thinking, because all she said was, "he's OK." We both collapsed on the couch and started sobbing.
There are very few friends who weren't directly affected. One friend's dad was killed, another lost a sister. One of the guys who was murdered had been baptized by my grandfather. One friend who grew up in Blacksburg didn't come back to school for the rest of the year. That kind of tragedy was too much to comprehend. Even now, two years later, I have a hard time writing this. So many precious lives were lost that day and to such senseless evil.
Last week, they reopened Norris Hall. It will house a Center for Peace and be the headquarters for a new major/minor offering in conflict resolution. My dad doesn't like to talk about 4.16.07, but he e-mailed me an article about the reopened Norris Hall. All he said was, "this is as it should be."
Please keep the friends and family of the 32 killed, as well as the entire VT community, in your thoughts and prayers today.