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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Words Can't Describe

I was in my office yesterday morning, conducting business as usual, when Paula came in to tell me that the local news was reporting a shooting on the Virginia Tech campus. "Really? Any details?" "No." I paused, made a mental note of it, and went back to work.

Minutes later she came in and told me that there was one fatality involved and one person wounded. "Jesus."

Not much later it was multiple gun shots being reported and multiple fatalities. "What?!"

My daughter-in-law, who lives between Roanoke and Blacksburg, called to say there was a line of ambulances heading south (toward Blacksburg), lights flashing, sirens screaming.

5 reported dead. 17 being treated in area hospitals. One gunman thought to be involved. A girlfriend. Domestic dispute.

Then ABC News reported 20 killed. "For the love of God!"



As I listened to the local Blacksburg radio station, reports came in from all over. As is always the case, the reports were devoid of content and were all contradicting each other. Mostly students talking on cellphones. Many from campus. None had firsthand information.

Panic. Fear. Wonder. Ache. Murk. Disorientation.

Phone calls started coming in. People wanting to know if I had been involved. Wanting information. Co-workers - light-heartedly - wanting to know if I was the gunman. My wife called my daughter to see if my son-in-law, a doctor who teaches medicine at Virginia Tech, was safe.

I watched two press conferences during the day, staged by Tech's president and by the college police chief. They were unprepared, which can't be criticized under the circumstances, and lacked any real information, at least any that they were willing to divulge. Frustratingly maddening. And a waste of time.

Finally, when I went to bed last night, I looked over at Paula and said, "There are a whole lot of families that have had a terrible day today, at a time in their lives when they should be experiencing great joy."

As I write this, hours later, I feel only sorrow. But, by yesterday afternoon, it was seething rage.

There are the funerals to come.

There will be the memorial services, two of which have been planned already on campus.

There will be a lot of soul-searching - and bluster - to follow. Oprah will do her thing. And she will give comfort to some.

There will be calls for someone's ass on a platter (in fact, there already are). You could see it coming in the questions being asked of the Tech president and the police chief. Why wasn't there a lockdown when the first shooting occurred? Why wasn't the response quicker? Why weren't the students warned when this started to unfold? Why wasn't there an evacuation plan? Why were students jumping out of windows? Where was security?

There will be calls for action. More laws. And this will give comfort to some. But how many laws did this guy break? How many more would have stopped him?

There will be those who will want to deflect their focus away from the gunman and onto his gun. They'll call for more gun control, (in fact, they already are) despite all the gun laws that the gunman broke; despite the fact that the university had a complete ban in place on weapons being brought onto campus (question: if professors had not been prohibited from carrying weapons of any kind, might the death toll have been reduced?).

There will be those who will blame society. Violent video games. Girls Gone Wild, and all that.

And there will be those who will turn to God - briefly - looking for solace; seeking answers.

Me? I focus on the gunman. As I told someone yesterday afternoon on the phone, I want this guy to suffer - before he is killed - and to then suffer some more. Pain beyond anything he could endure. I want him dragged through the streets. I want him torn limb from limb, for all America to see. A deterrent for all the badasses out there who fantasize about doing such things.

Of course, we then learned that the coward, after slaughtering so many innocent men, women, and children, right up the road from where I was conducting business, from where my loved ones were working, from where the hopes and dreams of thousands of America's best and brightest were playing out, where dreams for some will now never be fulfilled ... had committed suicide.

So. Where does all this leave us? Nowhere. There'll be no answers. None that will satisfy anyway. None, certainly, coming from authority on this planet. There will be no fixes to this uniquely American problem.

32 people are dead. The nation, in shock, turns to the task of mourning our loss. And looking for something that will never come.

For the latest, go to the Virginia Tech on-line newspaper - Collegiate Times.