American tragedy

Members of Salon's community, Table Talk, share their thoughts on the Virginia Tech massacre.

Published April 20, 2007 10:09AM (EDT)

Issues and News

Virginia Tech shooting

Margot Metroland - 06:25 am Pacific Time - Apr 17, 2007 - #36 of 346

I don't think it's a lack of gun laws that caused this. The shooter was an international student, and he lived in the dorms. It's not as easy for internationals to get guns here, and they are certainly illegal in the dorms. It's too facile to blame Virginia gun laws or "gun culture," which basically doesn't even exist here in Blacksburg, a town with plenty of educated people, liberals, academic types, etc.

Yesterday was really stressful. My husband's lab is in the next building over from Norris Hall. Thank goodness he stayed put and kept his lab locked (after much persuasion from me). I wasn't able to drive onto campus after my work was evacuated because the police were blocking it off, and I had to pick him up at the edge of campus. We went home and I hugged him and didn't want to let him go.

He knows some of the professors who were killed, and he knows that at least one of his former students was killed. We don't know yet if anyone else we know is dead. We spent most of the day yesterday answering phone calls from friends, family, and colleagues all over the world who were wanting to know if he was ok.

The whole campus is crawling with cops today -- probably because of the Bushes coming. What a terrible thing to happen to our community, our university. Virginia Tech is known as a great engineering school -- but now we'll always think of the Virginia Tech Massacre. I'm still kind of in shock.

Jen - 10:30 am Pacific Time - Apr 17, 2007 - #109 of 346

I had thought it was just a coincidence that the NRA showed up next door to Columbine right after the tragedy. But I'm boggled and disgusted by the insta-response from the gun nuts yesterday. The news had barely hit CNN when multiple politicians/spokespersons started making statements about how great guns are and how bad gun control is.

First, it was horribly tacky. We didn't even know the death count, let alone who the bad guy was or where he got his weapons. And these guys, instead of waiting for news with horror like the rest of us, were writing their prepared statements to try to take advantage of the situation.

And second, it's an idiotic response that could only be come up with by someone with a serious obsession with their little chosen pet interest. Psychotic person has access to guns = gun control is bad??? What kind of person even comes up with that line of reasoning, let alone goes on TV with it?

I mean, yes, it probably is too late to reverse the tide now that we've saturated the entire country with unregulated, unregistered guns. But that doesn't mean the NRA was right -- it means we've been wrong all along and continue to be wrong, but it doesn't mean we throw up our hands and arm every potential nutcase we can, on the off-chance they might shoot a bad guy someday.

GenericTTLogin - 02:06 pm Pacific Time - Apr 17, 2007 - #134 of 345

As Mr. Spock once so sagely said, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one." But this perspective is at odds with the manner in which a lot of students are parented and taught today, where individual self-esteem and self-actualization is highly valued. It's ALL ABOUT ME!!!!!!!

I think some folks are increasingly uninterested in, or incapable of, evaluating the impact that their actions will have on others. Rather, navel-gazing is not only allowed, but encouraged and rewarded. "I'm in pain, and my beliefs and feelings are the only ones I care about -- the only ones that matter." Wallow wallow wallow. This type of narcissism, coupled with mental instability/illness, a triggering event, and weapon availability...

This guy was in enough pain that he felt killing over 30 people was a valid decision. If we could start to get a handle on the (yes, whacked) decision-making process which made this seem like a reasonable option, maybe we have a starting point toward prevention.

Clare Harvey - 03:50 pm Pacific Time - Apr 17, 2007 - #150 of 345

CNN has been harping on this "loner" garbage all day. Welcome to another episode of Pick On the Weird People.

Really, a tendency to have trouble expressing and acting upon one's emotions, a tendency to be impulsive, and a history of controlling behavior toward others would be more of a problem. And just by the way, the "kid" people are referring to that people are supposed to be taking care of and wrapping in cotton wool is TWENTY-THREE YEARS OLD. Not a baby.

Though come to think of it, isn't it often the overprotected, immature, babyish fellas with great big mama issues who never learned to be responsible for their OWN feelings that always end up pulling garbage like this?

Simone - 04:54 pm Pacific Time - Apr 17, 2007 - #164 of 345

I know someone who was targeted by a stalker (he fixated on her via her MySpace page ... yet another reason to be careful!). He was a college student, and the college would do NOTHING about it. I mean, he was sending her death threats and rape threats, and the college could not have cared less that this guy was living in their dorms, among their other students. They wouldn't even talk to his parents, since he was an "adult" (and when someone did find and contact the parents, they did nothing either). The guy eventually did enough to trigger his own arrest and imprisonment, but the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth concerning how little action colleges are prepared to take to deal with dangerous and disturbed students.

Margot Metroland - 06:32 am Pacific Time - Apr 18, 2007 - #191 of 345

I've been involved with Tech as a student or employee since 1997. I can count on one hand the number of times they've cancelled class for snow in all that time. They are very resistant to cancelling classes and almost never do it. Also, their email system is very slow sometimes and messages sometimes take hours to actually arrive in inboxes. I'm not sure how they could have cancelled classes quickly enough, but I wish that they had done more.

I was afraid of seeing the casualty list, and for good reason. I knew the French teacher who was killed -- not well, but she has been a customer of mine at the clothing stores where I've worked for years. She was a very sweet lady. What a fucking waste ... I'm so angry about this.

Chris P - 07:38 am Pacific Time - Apr 18, 2007 - #202 of 345

This campus has closed only once in the fourteen years I have been here -- the massive power outage. And still, people came and huddled around the buildings that did have emergency lighting, because hey! Lights! We can barely get buildings evacuated during real fires -- last weekend there was a fire in a studio and even though they heard alarms and smelled smoke students didn't leave because they had projects due. It wasn't until the sprinklers went off that they took action -- to protect their projects from water. Text messages are well and good, if your phone is charged, turned on, not lost, etc., and if the messages get through in a timely fashion. Broadcast emails and text messages can take hours to reach everyone, sometimes, as others have mentioned.

vorpal_blade - 12:27 pm Pacific Time - Apr 18, 2007 - #258 of 346

That's the thing in all of this for me, right there -- there may not have been enough to form criminal intent, but wasn't there enough to indicate that he was a significant risk and the situation at least warranted a discussion of whether he was harmful to the university environment?

I went and looked up the definitions of harassment, sexual harassment, and hostile environment today -- all things that would be grounds for dismissal from a work environment because of the negative environment they create for others -- and they all sound shockingly like the environment around this young man for a significant period of time. Specifically, the taking photos of women in class, the stalking, the fact that at least two of his professors were disturbed enough by his classroom behavior and work to raise the issue to the administration and/or police, and one of them was uncomfortable enough to see RESIGNING as an alternative to continuing to teach a class he was in.

At some point, the question isn't "do we expect criminal homocidal activity," but "how do we protect the emotional health of the university environment," and when someone is violating basic standards of behavior to this degree, you don't necessarily arrest him, but good lord, wouldn't you remove him from the school environment and treat him as a potential threat until he was safely transitioned out?

Not everyone who writes a dark play about violence or takes pictures of strangers is, obviously, about to go on a mass killing spree. But the university environment is special because of the level of trust conferred on it by parents, and because of the tight quarters and close-knit community, not to mention the potential for high drama from not-yet-fully-mature adults. Surely some definition of "risk" for this specialized environment should be in use, and one stricter, not more lenient, than that applied to the work environment.

Madame Bluestocking - 03:09 pm Pacific Time - Apr 18, 2007 - #329 of 346

I work in the administration of a large entity of public higher ed and we had to submit a document to our governor and state legislature yesterday outlining the disaster plans for each of the campuses we work with, especially highlighting the areas of how they intend to handle disaster communications and how they can secure the campus. The best of the plans are very good with lots of redundancy in communications and the ability to secure the campus and its buildings. Our largest campus, which has more students than VA Tech, but is not quite as large land-wise, does have the ability to secure its outside entrances to incoming vehicles and to lock down every building on campus electronically from campus police headquarters. It's not perfect, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a large campus to have that level of security. It could be useful in any number of situations -- even if it's to keep people away/indoors during a more mundane emergency such as a tornado.

I'm also a little boggled that this student was still living with other students and attending class with no strings attached. Universities can, in fact, insist that a student attend counseling as a condition for continuing to live in a dorm or attending classes with other students. They can also be removed from campus for a certain period of time w/o having to be expelled -- often done to force a student to seek help and be reevaluated before returning. I'm not that long out of college and this happened a lot at my undergrad school to students with far less of a history than Cho had.

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