There are certain tragedies that are burned into our consciousness. No matter how hard we try to forget the memory we cannot. We know where we were when we heard the news; we can see everything just as it was at that moment. The murders on April 16, 2007 at Virginia Tech fall into that category. The events that day in Blacksburg, Virginia were so horrific that we all knew in some way, not fully explainable, that from the moment we heard about the shootings, our lives would never be the same.
It is now ten years since the Virginia Tech rampage and the images and the pain are just as vivid as they were that Spring day in 2007.
If you have the misfortune to not only hear about such a tragedy, but find out that your own family has been directly touched by it through the loss of a loved one, then that moment stretches out over days, months and even years, as one by one the agonizing details come out. If you are lucky, there is justice and a moment when you are able to move on. If you are unlucky, there are justifications, excuses, and lies that tie you tighter to the tragedy every day. But no matter what happens, there is that overwhelming and inescapable loss.
For those of us whose family members were victims of school shootings, there are no words that can capture the impact of that loss. For me it was the mother of our oldest grandchild killed at the Appalachian School of Law shooting on January 16, 2002.
What is my goal in continuing to write about the Tech rampage? There are three main goals: first, to expose the abdication of leadership and authority by politicians, school officials, and law enforcement personnel in connection with all aspects of the Virginia Tech tragedy; second, to raise public awareness about what happened at Virginia Tech before, during, and after the shooting, and in so doing give support to the Virginia Tech families’ efforts to bring about changes in state and federal laws to tighten school security; and third, to help all families understand what they can do in insisting that universities and colleges have in place effective security measures and that those measures are understood by faculty, staff, and students.
My purpose is not to be vindictive, but to hold people accountable for their actions or inactions in an effort to lessen the chances of future school shootings. My purpose is to expose the shortcomings and inadequacies of our society that have made too many of our schools shooting galleries for the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed. My purpose is also to expose the lengths that those in leadership will go to in order to hide the truth, including their failure to abide by their own written policies, so as to maintain a steady stream of financial gifts. The simple fact is that until there is accountability, our schools will not be safe.
I do not pretend to have all the answers, and I recognize that violence in America today is part of a broader problem in society, including a crisis in masculinity—men and boys have carried out all the school shootings in the U.S. to date. Males do around 97 percent of the mass killings and serial shootings in this country. I also recognize that many of our core values and beliefs need to be re-examined. For example, we need to re-examine individual rights. A potentially dangerous student does have rights, but not at the cost of other lives. We seem to have lost sight of that fact.
It is not enough to tell the families of the shooting victims that no one could have prevented the Virginia Tech tragedy. For one thing, that simply is not true. The only way you can say it could not have been stopped is to gloss over the fact that people ignored the warning signs. If people ignore multiple warning signs then of course these shootings cannot be prevented. In my opinion, to ignore warning signs is tantamount to being an accessory to murder before the fact.
As long as people maintain that no one could have stopped Seung Hui Cho, the families of his victims will be prisoners to the agony of their loss. The road to recovery starts with the recognition that Cho’s rampage could have been prevented. Indeed, the first step in moving on from the loss of life on April 16, 2007 is to understand that we will never fully recover because the Virginia Tech massacre was preventable.
In Virginia, politicians fell prey to political agendas and opted to cover up and obfuscate. Fear of the impact of those agendas blocked a thorough examination of events of April 16, 2007, turning the Governor’s Review Panel Report of the tragedy into a glossy canard. Indeed, the failure to include a representative from the families on the Governor’s Review Panel Report proves French writer Paul Valery’s assertion that “politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.”
Second Amendment advocates and the National Rifle Association have so manipulated and defined the problem of school shootings that no one is willing to rise to discuss campus shootings without first saying, “I support the Second Amendment.” This statement is usually followed by a tirade about the individual’s rights to own guns. The politicians’ anticipation of right-wing opposition to any dialog on gun violence has meant that issues such as mental health and keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill never get fully explored. No one seems willing to hear about problems in society or pathologies that might be feeding into the minds of the unstable and contributing to their violent reactions to real or imagined threats. The Second Amendment advocates have paralyzed discussions about the prevention of school shootings. The radical gun-rights advocates have done our society a terrible disservice.
It is because of the inadequacies of the response by Virginia Tech and the fact that not nearly enough has been done to alert the public to the continuing danger of school shootings, that I feel obliged to write this book. Just because some things were done in response to the Tech shooting, does not mean that the correct things or enough things were done. Indeed, the voices of those who wanted to look at all the factors surrounding the school massacre appear to have been drowned out by a chorus of some conservative activists who poisoned the attempts at a thoughtful, sober, and thorough investigation of the tragedy. How else can you explain the omissions and errors that still exist in the Governor’s Review Panel Report of the Virginia Tech shooting? I examine the flaws in that report in later posts.
A variety of causes--including broken communications, misunderstandings of our laws on privacy, failure to follow emergency procedures as written, and the incompetence of some people in positions of power--played into the terrible events before, on, and after April 16, 2007. There were a variety of interacting causes that aided and abetted Cho’s shooting rampage. There are a multiplicity of causes that led to this nation’s worst school shooting and for intelligent people to brush the tragedy aside saying “no one can be responsible for when or how others will act” is nothing less than cowardice to face the truth and a shameful willingness to exploit and manipulate a tragedy for personal or ideological reasons.
The Virginia Tech families cannot move on or begin to heal as long as the lies and the half-truths persist. If one parent reads my words and then takes action to protect the life of his or her child, then I will consider myself to have been successful. If one politician, after reading the book, has the will to push through legislation to keep guns out of the hands of unstable people, and if he or she finds the determination to address the societal problems that make the U.S. so violent, then I have been a success. If my words can help prevent just one campus shooting, then I have met and exceeded my expectations for this book. So I begin my postings on the Virginia Tech tragedy.