Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Too Familiar a Tragedy: Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech

NEW ORLEANS, April 16 — Eight years ago this week, an editorial board member from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle called me, seeking a young voice to comment on the Columbine High School tragedy in Littleton, Colo. My piece ran with others two days after the massacre, under the banner, "Rampage at a Colorado School."

Tonight, I'm sad to note, not much has changed but the date, the numbers, and the geography. CNN's site carries the banner, "STUDENTS SLAUGHTERED," and they were today at Virginia Tech. Thousands of miles from Littleton, 20 more killed than in that tragedy, and I find my old words ring too true.

As a newly minted 17-year-old budding journalist, I wrote, "As I watched the story unfold live on the cable news stations, the horror became increasingly evident to me." Tonight, with my 25th birthday tomorrow, the words carry more tragic weight. I've since left high school, finished college, worked, and started law school, but the tragedies of this week — in 1999 and 2007 — throw the fragility and trauma of life and death into sharp relief.

I can't help but wonder if there's something about this week that begets tragedy. Columbine, now Tech. Before them, Oklahoma City and Waco.

"I was struck by shock and utter disbelief," the 17-year-old me wrote. "A wave of numbness swept over me. As the hours progressed and information continued to be revealed, the numbness grew. Any tragedy of this magnitude is too close to home."

Today, the numbness and shock returned on hearing 27 shots ring out in a grainy video captured by cell phone. And my heart wrenches for the Virginia Tech community, and it wrenches again for academia, knowing it easily could have been here in New Orleans, or up at Columbia, or in Syraucse or Rochester.

I don't have the answers, only some questions. Let's find the solutions together to grieve and grow from this tragedy with hope that we'll never bear another like it.

Tonight, we are all Hokies, and we are with y'all at Tech.

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