There are times when the three hour time difference between the East and West coasts is significant in ways one could never imagine. On April 16, this time difference meant that when I arrived at work at 8:00 am the events at Virginia Tech had already occurred, although it would be some hours until a more complete picture about the magnitude of the tragedy became clear. In the days since I have again felt myself to be part of that unique family that is Hokie nation. I have been in contact with roommates, friends, and teachers that I had not spoken with in years. And I have thought a great deal about the meaning and implications of the shootings.

In many ways, this is just part of my normal activities. I work for a research center that examines how forces of global change are transforming security threats that confront states and their citizens. I often spend much of my day thinking about threats and vulnerabilities from terrorism, crime, and infectious disease. But the events of April 16 have presented me with a challenge as I consider the events not only from a security studies perspective, but also as someone who lived in Blacksburg for five years and earned two degrees from Virginia Tech.

A few years ago, the center I work for conducted a project on school safety and emergency preparedness. One of the lessons I came away from the project with was an understanding that school shootings occur in places that seem unlikely, most often suburban and rural areas. In this way, Virginia Tech is like many of the other campuses - California State University at Fullerton, the University of Iowa, San Diego State University, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Virginia Appalachian School of Law, the University of Arizona Nursing College, and West Virginia Shepherd University�that have been victims of shooting incidents. None of these schools are located in areas that spring to mind as particularly dangerous or crime ridden.

Another lesson I came away from our project with is the understanding that school shootings are like many other forms of modern crisis in that they are often over before first responders arrive. In such instances, the real first responders to incidents are whoever happens to be at the location of an incident. The stories that have emerged about April 16 show a remarkable amount of heroism and selflessness. When faced with an unexpected danger, teachers and students responded, often with very little time to consider their situation, to help others and try and reduce the danger they faced.

In the aftermath of the events of April 16, 2007, many people have been trying to make sense of what occurred and asking about the lessons that can be learned from the events. One lesson that seems clear is that geography is no real protection from these sorts of tragedies. As someone who studies security threats, I can see that the events at Virginia Tech make it clearer that on the changing security landscape on which we now find ourselves, people and organizations at all levels of society must ask what they can do to prevent and prepare for events like these. But as someone who spent an important and formative part of my life at Virginia Tech, I am deeply saddened that Virginia Tech will now be among the events we discuss, and that many people's memories of Blacksburg will be of the scenes of tragedy they saw unfold on April 16.

Bryan McDonald
B.A. English (1997)
M.A. Political Science (1999)


Bryan McDonald




Bryan McDonald




Bryan McDonald, “[Untitled],” The April 16 Archive, accessed September 4, 2015, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/90.