Shock and Horror


Shock and Horror


On the morning of April 16 I was in my office at George Mason University recording a podcast with two colleagues. When we came out of our recording session, I sat down to check my email and saw on the news feed that there had been a shooting at Virginia Tech and that as many as 16 people were believed dead.

I could hardly believe what I was reading. How could so many students and faculty be killed in one rampage? Little did I know that I knew only half the story, half the tragedy. As each hour passed we learned more by updating our browsers and each time the number of dead and wounded grew. And each time I wondered if the people I knew there in the History Department were safe? Were the children from my neighborhood who attend Tech safe? Not having names to put with the numbers made the waiting so much more excruciating.

Later that day I saw a former student in our main student union building. From the stricken look on her face, I knew something was wrong. When I asked, she told me that her sister's best friend was among the wounded and had been shot in the leg. We hugged one another for a moment and agreed that this young woman, at least, had been a little bit lucky--she would be one of the survivors.

That night, I had to sit down with my two children, ages 10 and 8, and explain what had happened. Why it was that the free access to handguns in our society made it so easy for someone to carry out such vengeance on those he believed were at the root of his own personal darkness, and why now, perhaps, my boys understood why their father hates handguns so much. I told them about the time I was one of the lucky ones--when the man who had shoved a pistol under my nose decided to run away rather than shoot me. I told them that I never, ever want them to own a handgun as long as they live.

Then I had to explain to them why they didn't have to worry that their father, a professor like those who died at our sister institution in Blacksburg, was in no danger at his job at George Mason. Children need such certainty in moments of crisis.

But was it wrong to lie to them? To tell them George Mason is a safe campus when it is no safer than any other campus in America? Over and over I tell my children that telling the truth is the most important thing. But on April 16 I just wanted them to feel that their father was safe.

And, of course, I was lying to myself for exactly the same reason.


Mills Kelly




Mills Kelly




Mills Kelly, “Shock and Horror,” The April 16 Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,