Colin Goddard knew he was wounded, but he never thought he was going to die. He simply could not believe what was happening. It was all some sort of nightmare, he would wake up and everything would be OK. But he was not asleep, he was awake. It was not a nightmare, and he was not OK.
He remembers hearing the police say, “Put a red tag here, a yellow one here, a black tag here.” He was in a daze.
The police dragged Colin by the arms out into the hallway. They also got Kristina out and in the hall the police checked both of them. Colin could see Kristina look as if she were about to go to sleep and could hear the police ask her questions-“What is your name? What is your major?”- anything to keep her awake. The police kept calling her by the wrong name—Kristen, Christine—until Colin yelled out, “Her name is Kristina!”
The police asked him if he could walk and he said, “No.” Four officers picked Colin up, one under each limb and carried him down the steps, out the front door and onto the lawn. Two officers carried Kristina outside. There they cut off his shirt and jeans to inspect his injuries. It was lightly snowing and freezing cold. Colin kept yelling for a blanket and finally got one. It was during these moments that someone on the other side of campus snapped a photo that would make the front page of the newspapers the next day.
He could hear the police saying they were trying to land a helicopter right outside the building, but due to bad weather, were unable to do so. So they brought an ambulance over the curb and onto the lawn and loaded him and another wounded student, Garrett Evans inside. As Colin was one of the last survivors to be removed from the building, the local hospital, Montgomery General, was already full. They were taken to the hospital in neighboring Radford, Virginia. As they began driving, that is when the shock and numbness of the adrenaline began to wear off and the pain began to set in. He thought they must have been going over 100mph on the shoulder as Colin was bouncing up and down on the medical table. He yelled and screamed for the driver to stop or slow down.
Colin was immediately taken to the emergency room. His memory is vague, but he does recall seeing people everywhere, several of whom began working on him. He remembers saying to the surgeon humorously, “Are all these people really necessary?”
The doctors asked for Colin’s parent’s phone number to let them know he was under their care. As his parents recently moved into a new home, Colin hadn’t memorized it yet and his cell phone was back at the crime scene. He told them to Google his mother’s organization’s name to get her number. They got his mother on the phone and her first words were, “Colin, what did you do?” His response, “Nothing Mom, I have been shot, I’m gonna be OK, but please get down here quickly.”
Colin was lucky, and he is OK with that. When the doctors realized that no organs or arteries were hit, they were able to give him painkillers. He would have to have surgery on his leg the next day to implant a titanium rod down the center of his left femur in order to stabilize the leg and allow him to walk properly again. He was able to leave the hospital in a wheelchair in just six days. His many surgeries and road to recovery were just beginning. A young man of exceptional fortitude and determination, he wanted to attend the memorial service for his slain professor some two days later.
Colin says he made the right choice by choosing to begin his recovery in Blacksburg. He went back to his apartment when he got out of hospital, and back to his friends. To have gone to his parents’ home in Richmond (the family had just moved to Virginia from Atlanta) would not have helped. He went back to the environment he knew and loved—Virginia Tech. Talking about the shooting—especially in the first few weeks—was beneficial.
And, after returning to school, the group therapy sessions set up by Tech were especially helpful. Everyone had to say what he/she remembered. Some could remember minute details, others next to nothing, but hearing those eleven minutes retold from other perspectives helped Colin and others put their own timelines together.
There were six or seven group therapy sessions. The last was a private session and the counselor told Colin he was expressing classic post- traumatic stress symptoms. That was somewhat shocking for Colin, who thought he was doing well in his return to school. The office of Recovery and Support, set up by Tech, was valuable in Colin’s recovery process as well. Jay Poole headed the office, and about once a month Poole hosted a dinner at his house for the victims to get together. This was very beneficial for survivors to finally to meet each other in private and to get to know one another, and actually become friends in may cases.
For Colin, going back to Tech to finish his last year was the right thing to do. Everyone expected him and most of the other survivors to transfer schools. But staying helped him face the aftermath of the tragedy. Colin is very proud to report that all the wounded students eventually went back and got their degrees. By going back, he said, “We didn’t allow Cho to take that (their education and their future) away from us.”
Colin has had to have follow-up surgery despite the initial diagnosis doctors telling him that all the bullet fragments they left would solidify themselves permanently. Three years after the shooting he had to have a bullet fragment removed from his hip. Four bullets entered his body and only one left. He still has the shattered bullets in his right hip, left upper thigh, and left knee. The physical scars are not noticeable, and when you meet and talk with him you realize how well he is doing in overcoming the emotional and psychological scars.
When I asked Colin what he would like this book to do, he said, “I would like to believe that the school had the best intentions that morning, but I am afraid the book will not show that. It is already clear to me that better decisions could have been made on April 16th. Also, after the shooting, the families could, and should, have been made to feel that they were the top priority of school officials—but they were not. It is my hope that the book will show that if similar events happen, the same decisions would not be made. For example: The decision not to notify the students immediately. And the unexplainable decisions of the school in not having representatives visit the injured and their family members. It is my hope that the book will show that if similar events happen on campus, the same decisions of April 16, 2007 will not be made again.
“The decision makers that morning should have made different decisions. That needs to be made clear.
“What bothers me is that school officials were worried about saying something, anything, because of liability. Just say you are sorry, you screwed up, and you should have done things differently. Speak to us as human beings with compassion—with feeling. Speak the truth as decent human beings. If they had done that there might never have been the lawsuit.”
Colin Goddard is an exceptional young man. He is not bitter he is determined. He has devoted his life to the memory of his 32 fellow students who perished that day. He now works for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, tirelessly trying to help make our society safer, and to help keep guns out of the hands of those who are a danger to themselves or others. If you can say anything good has come out of Cho’s diabolical act, it is the courage and will of Colin Goddard and all the survivors to go on with their lives and not to let Cho take away their bright and promising futures. (To be continued)