Broken heart's here at Virginia Tech


Broken heart's here at Virginia Tech


Apr 18th, 2007 by <a href="">Ryan Lanham</a>

This day, two days after the shootings at Virginia Tech, is a day of broken hearts. The eyes of those who love the place realize it is now Kent State, like Columbine, as a tragic event, particularly for most people outside the immediate community.

That set of moments will always be...a where were you when...time. It is now the historical event of tours and commentators fifty years hence. The shooter has ensured his fame as a parting shot of narcissism.

My boss and mentor has given over 30 years to the campus from a time when it was a sleepy state school that charged $18 a credit hour, or something like that, to helping it grow into a research institution of international note. It breaks my heart to see the heartbreak in his eyes. His love of the place helps me help him in his work; his disappointment and sadness magnify my own. In some ways to see his disappointment is almost the worst of it for me. I was in his office, locked in behind two doors but near enough to open windows to hear gun shots, as the whole crisis unfolded. He was, as usual, fatherly and wise. I could not help but wonder if his leadership at the moment of crisis might have made a difference.

But so far as I can tell there are no lessons in any of this. The whole thing appears startlingly random. Gun ownership is falling rather rapidly in the United States and it would be utterly impossible to achieve any legislative gain on the issue in the face of those who are its advocates and protectors.

The student was a loner who had troubling fantasies, but that would only put him amongst maybe 15% of his peers (at least). I heard today at a press conference that 7-30% of the student body is seen for counselling in the course of a year. Mental health is a real issue, and this fellow wasn&#39;t even really in the system like 10s of thousands of other college students.

The university probably didn&#39;t act perfectly, but who would have? And second guessing such a singular event seems work I am uninterested was a windy, colder Monday morning at this huge institution with thousands of drivers and issues in play. Mishandled? Well, in such an environment everything is probably mishandled in one way or another. I can&#39;t see great error from what I have heard. The flow of better information seems to be the best and consistent lesson learned from most crises I have been involved with (including this one). Could there have been some sort of electronic locking system or metal doors on each classroom? Should we have had a texting system? Who can say?

The press has been omnipresent but mostly respectful, I&#39;d judge. Only some of them seem to be the ghoulish dirty laundry sorts. Still, mourning is difficult in their presence. Consequently, the environment is more surreal than mournful so far. The husk of the Norris building sits nearby to where I write this. Police come and go wiping the sweat from their heads. They too seem distressed at the magnitude of the crime scene. The one Virginia Tech police officer I spoke briefly order to thank him...had a sort of look as if he were ashamed not more could be done. I don&#39;t think I was misreading him...something combining shame and fatigue ran over his face. To my mind there is no need for shame...far from it. I know of no one who expected more from these folks. They did not resolve the crisis, but they acted and responded doing their best. That alone took great courage especially after two security/police deaths in this small town within the year.

The young son of the Blacksburg Rescue Squad chief came briefly to my house to play with my children yesterday. The woman watching him said his parents "needed a break." I know the father fairly well and went camping with him once. He&#39;s a tough and internalized guy. I have thought about his cleaning up those bodies several times. How do you absorb that? I find my mind drifting to questions of who will have to clean up the floors and the walls. Will janitors face that? How long will blood drops be found here or there...under a desk. It seems to me you have to sort of start afresh with it. Empty it. Maybe even close the building. Why do I think about those things? I also cannot help but think of other disaster sites. There was a movie on HBO not long ago on the Tsunami in Thailand that touched on these unspeakable topics. It was engaging because those human issues...not the usual press garbage, was addressed.
Many families are about on campus. I&#39;m not sure how people are staying here. The hotels must be packed. There must be tens of thousands of people who aren&#39;t from here milling around. The camera crews and reporters alone must be into the thousands.

Less than $1,000 worth of guns and bullets. A few chains and locks. And maybe 3 hours of insanity. Not only many lives changed or destroyed, but a place defined and branded. The only sense is one of heartbreak.


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Ryan Lanham




Brent Jesiek


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Ryan Lanham, “Broken heart&#39;s here at Virginia Tech,” The April 16 Archive, accessed August 23, 2017,