“A moral principle cannot be ignored because it is inconvenient”
The Appalachian School of Law held a memorial and commemoration ceremony on the first anniversary of the shooting, January 16, 2003. The memorial took place in the school’s large, main classroom designed to resemble a courtroom. The victims’ families gathered in the student lounge nearby. The mood was somber. As we were waiting in the lounge for the ceremony to begin, I was involved in a brief encounter occurred that seemed to say so much about Grundy and the law school.
I had stood to the side of the room, not wanting to talk to anyone. Inside I was trembling and wanted to concentrate only on what I had to say and do. I noticed a woman working the crowd, and eventually she approached and introduced herself. I do not remember her name. All I remember is that she portrayed herself as a very important local commodity.
I had spotted her moving from one person to another, looking around for the next handshake and moving on—working the crowd. Something akin to a Walmart greeter; it struck me as inappropriate.
It was my turn. She recognized my name from the program and thanked me for participating in the ceremony.
Under stress the strangest things become significant. I had parked across the street and on the other side of a stream that runs by the school. I was not sure I was parked legally. For lack of anything else to say, I asked her if it were okay to park there. I think subconsciously I wanted her to say, “No, you have to move it.” That way I could move the car and keep on going; run away from the terrible two-minute ordeal that lay ahead of me.
She responded that I should not worry, if I got a ticket, come to her, she would “fix it.” As she said, “fix it,” she strained slightly and the volume of her voice increased… as if to underscore her importance.
Her words, her tone said everything. Fix it? Her whole demeanor had changed, the subject now allowed her to display her importance, her influence. She took on the role of the “grand dame.” I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach—I suddenly felt as if I were going to throw up. Her “I can fix it” attitude repulsed me. She could “fix” nothing! The time to “fix” had long past. On the surface her words said one thing, her body language and voice said another. For just a moment I felt I had a view inside the nasty, smoke-filled rooms that “fix” things in Grundy. Before I could say anything, she spotted her next victim and moved on. In silence I watched her walk away, but the smell lingered.
From the school lounge we went to the school’s courtyard—at the precise time of the shootings, the town’s church bells rang—the noise was faint, even muted. We then walked to the courtroom where the ceremony began.
I really don’t remember much of what was said. I was so concerned about making it through my part of the ceremony with out losing my composure. I had practiced, practiced, and practiced again. Janice and I had stayed at Angie’s house the night before, I stood next to the kitchen counter and read and reread and read again my two pages. The next morning I rehearsed over and over again. Would I say the right thing? Would Angie’s family like my words? Could I even make it through the dreaded two minutes?
Janice had encouraged me. “This is a big honor; they have chosen you to be the family spokesman. If there were any doubt who speaks for the Dales, it will disappear today.” When I wanted to stop, she insisted that I keep practicing. Each reading was an ordeal. It was difficult for me to read and for Janice to listen. Shortly after I started practicing she went into the living and sat so I wouldn’t see her cry. Every time I read my words the hate, the anger, the anguish and depression flooded in—my goal was to be robotic—to build some barrier between the words I was going to speak and the pain I felt inside.
I was the second family representative to speak. The committee had decided to go in alphabetical order of the victim’s last names: Blackwell, Dales, Sutin. I really don’t remember what the others said. I only remember following the program with my index finger as the ceremony moved closer to my name.Then my turn came and I walked to the podium—my legs trembling:
Angela Denise Dales was proud of her heritage. She was the daughter of a coal miner, and the daughter of a cook. Angela was a loving sister and devoted mother to her daughter, Rebecca. The first in her family to receive a college degree, she was the American dream—a small town girl on her way to making it big. A single mother who through hard work, intellect and determination was a success in everything she did. Angela was an honor student at Virginia Intermont College where she won the school’s highest awards. She was proud of her association with the Appalachian School of Law, first as a recruiter and then a student.
Indeed, Angie was at the top of her law school class and had been elected treasurer of Phi Alpha Delta.
How can we find the words to express our loss? The loss that all of us feel.
Everyone in this room who knew Angela feels the pain of her passing. There are no words that console Angela’s family—there are no words in any religion, in any language, in any country that can capture the horror, grief, and anger felt by Angie’s family one year ago today—and every day since then.
We have to move on—but how can we fully function questioning why she died? The family appreciates the students who were at Angela’s side, but how do we deal with and fight the suffocation that wakes us in the middle of the night in a cold sweat—the suffocation of knowing that Angie did not get all the help she needed. Why did she need to die when the hospital was only six minutes away?
When Angela Denise Dales died, something good in every one of us died. Part of the soul of this town died. Part of the spirit of this law school died that can never be replaced. No tree, no flower, no plaque can replace what we have lost.
We will never forget you Angie. We will always remember that you spoke words of truth, kindness and encouragement to family and friends alike. The family will try to live every day to the fullest we can as a tribute to you—the young woman who reveled in life and all that life offers. Your passing has made all of us remember that if we have something to say to a loved one, say it lovingly.
Say it as if we would never have another day with them—we must make every second of every day count.
We miss you every moment of every day Angie. We will never forget you. We will see that your daughter, Rebecca, grows up and has every opportunity to fulfill all the dreams you had for her. We will always love you.
(To be continued)