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Students remember VT tragedy

Patty Vaughan

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Saturday will mark the fourth anniversary of  the shooting that cost 32 students and faculty their lives on the Virginia Tech campus.

Four years ago, VT student Seung-Hui Cho killed two individuals at West Ambler Johnston Hall and later stormed Norris Hall. Cho killed five faculty members, 27 students and injured 17 people. Six more individuals were injured after they jumped from second-story windows to escape. The ages of the deceased ranged from 18 to 76.

Several UA graduate students went to Virginia Tech for their undergraduate degrees and will be remembering that day with the rest of the Virginia Tech family.

“It is strange to think it has already been four years since the tragedy,” said Laura Valentine, a graduate student at UA who graduated from VT in 2008. “Sometimes it feels like only a couple months ago and other times it feels so far in the past.”

 

Remembering the Day

 

Elizabeth Ganey, a graduate student and a VT alumna, said it was a day that she’ll never forget.

“That morning I had gone to campus to study and was in class when the first shooting happened and everybody got an email that said they had captured the guy at the time,” Ganey said. “They didn’t know it was the wrong person. I was on my way to my next class, and I just remember hundreds of police cars with their sirens on. I think that was the point where I was like ‘this isn’t normal.’”

Ganey said she continued on to class when 20 minutes later someone said the university was on lock down and the shooter was on campus.

“If you can imagine the hysteria of not knowing what was going on,” she said. “We had no idea that the shooter had killed himself. As far as we knew, the shooter was still loose. It was just panic that day.”

After Ganey returned home, she had an email from the president that said the university was on lockdown.

“It’s like…what you do in that situation?” Ganey said. “How do you give all the details, because [the president] didn’t know any of the details.”

Valentine said she has also been emotionally dealing with the memory of that day.

“I was on campus that day and still feel anxious whenever I hear sirens,” Valentine said. “The anniversaries of the tragedy have become my time to process the event on a much more emotional level, which is very healing. I appreciate Virginia Tech both remembering the event and commemorating the students and faculty who were lost. Every year they hold a candlelight ceremony, a ‘Run in Remembrance’ and a community picnic (as well as other events).”

The University paid its respects to those who lost their lives the day after the incident occurred.

“The University of Alabama honored the memory of those who died at Virginia Tech with a memorial playing of Denny Chimes on April 17, 2007, the day after the shootings occurred,” said Cathy Andreen, director of media relations. “Members of the University community gathered at the chimes for the memorial.”

Ganey said she originally wanted to watch all of the news coverage, but gradually the news got too close for comfort.

“At first I wanted to watch everything but then after a while it just got too hard,” Ganey said. “I think when you’re not a part of it, like September 11th, that stuff didn’t bother me. But with Tech, they would flash up the professor that stood up in front of the door to save his students. I wasn’t in that classroom but I was there. It was almost like I couldn’t watch it because I was a part of it. Like he had saved my life but he hadn’t.”

 

Moving Forward

“I sometimes walk into classrooms and think ‘if someone comes in here and someone shoots us, what am I going to do?” Ganey said. “I know that my classmates won’t think about that. It’s hard the first day of class when you have to introduce yourself and say I’m from Virginia Tech, I know that the first thing that comes into minds is, ‘Was she there? Did she know anyone?’ That’s something that’s been hard. I have to realize that they just don’t know.”

In her graduate courses at the University, Valentine said she discusses college as a microcosm of the “real world.”

“I know no matter what precautions administrators take there is no way to ensure complete campus safety,” Valentine said. “However, here at Alabama, I strongly feel that UA faculty and staff are doing an excellent job of being proactive in their approach to educating students on campus safety and creating a comprehensive crisis management plan.”

Even though the incident happened hundreds of miles away, the University has continued to improve the safety for students on campus.

“While UAPD was well prepared to respond to any emergency on our campus long before the Virginia Tech shootings occurred, UA, like most universities around the country, immediately began looking at ways to make our campus even safer, including expanding our emergency notification system,” Andreen said. “Today we have the UA Alerts system and a public address system in place to alert students, faculty and staff very quickly should an emergency arise.”

 

Anniversaries

Ganey said every person experiences tragedies through their lifetime.

“I think this made me realize that we all struggle with tragedy, and this is something that certainly anyone on campus remembers,” Ganey said. “Saturday is going to be a regular day for Alabama fans. It’ll be the hardest day of the year for me. Not crying the entire day is hard. How many people wake up one day and it’s the anniversary of their dads’ death or their sister’s death? Nobody knows. The anniversary is hard for everyone.”

For the past four years, Andreen said the University has not done anything to honor the anniversary.

“Individuals will always remember the victims of the Virginia Tech tragedy, as we do other pivotal events in our history; however, the events occurred on the campus of Virginia Tech and that is the appropriate place for ongoing commemorative events,” Andreen said.

Ganey said she wishes there was something to commemorate the anniversary each year.

“A visual would be great,” Ganey said. “It would be nice if they light some candles and just remember. I never know what to do. The first [anniversary] I placed flowers on my friend’s memorial. The second year, I just wore my Tech stuff. This year, since it’s A-Day, I think I’m going to wear my remembrance ribbon.”

Valentine said even though it has been a tough situation, she is proud of the community for looking ahead.

“Though the circumstances were unfortunate and devastating, the community that emerged at Virginia Tech is remarkably strong, abundantly hopeful and incredibly unique,” Valentine said. “I am proud and blessed to be a part of that family.”

 

 

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Students remember VT tragedy