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Coping with the Massacre

It has been more than a day now since my Mom called me and told me that this was not a minor shooting, but that the police had announced more than 20 individuals were dead. It has been more than 24 hours, yet I still cannot believe it. I am still struggling to cope with this news, an event that occured at a place I love so much and hold so dear to heart. I am “in a fog” as I have been telling people.

I will write in this article what has gone through my head over the past day. Therapy, to a degree, and also to help others understand why this event has impacted my Hokie brothers and sisters and me so much.

Yesterday morning I was returning from St. Louis after attending a buddy’s wedding. As I was in the air, I was planning an upcoming article for that I planned to write today. I was fresh with thoughts of my buddy and his bride, two lives now united. Meanwhile, little did I know that two Hokies had already been murdered, and an unthinkable massacre was yet to come.

After I landed at BWI, I headed to baggage claim to get my suitcase at about 9:45 AM. I stood right in front of the baggage drop, and sure enough, my suitcase was the first one out. “This is your lucky day,” muttered one passenger.

At that moment, approximately 30 more innocent Hokies were being senselessly killed with methodical precision. I can only imagine the horror going on inside that building, and the scars those that witnessed the murders of their classmates, professors, and friends will carry with them forever. But I was oblivious to all this and headed home.

My Mom told me over the phone at approximately 12:30 PM that the death count had been raised from 1, or 8-9 depending on the source, to more than 20. I couldn’t believe it. This couldn’t be. Not in my beloved Blacksburg. Not at my beloved alma mater. I had to get off the phone. My sister, also a VT grad, called shortly thereafter about an unrelated matter. I told her the news, and as I said it, I began to cry for the first time in my life about Virginia Tech. At least for the first time about something bad. At that moment, it started to become real once I had said it… “20 or more are dead.” I couldn’t believe my own words and quickly got off the phone and lost it. Death is not something I’ve had to deal with much in my life, I am fortunate to say. But to hear this news, regardless of where it took place, was too much to take. I cannot describe how sad I am for these people that lost their lives way too soon, and their families that have to try to deal with this tragedy.

I attempted to go into work for the afternoon, but that was a complete waste. As I sat in meetings in NE DC, my mind was 260 miles away. Back in a town I lived in for four years, and have probably made 100 trips to since then. My mind was obsessed with thoughts of the massacre. I thought of the victims. I prayed for the victims. I thought of those hurt, those that had to endure that nightmare, those that didn’t know about their child’s safety.

I also thought about the killer. Who could do such a thing? The event back in August was commited by an escaped criminal with no connection to the university. But, as we have now come to know, this act, the worst in U.S. history by a single gunman, was committed by a Hokie. It is still impossible for me to comprehend that. How could one of our own do such a reprehensible act? I don’t believe I will ever be able to understand how one person could do such a terrible thing, and the fact it was done by a Hokie stings even more.

It would be easy to hate the individual that did this act. To be angry at what they did. As for me, personally, I am chosing a different tact. That person is no more and now they will have to deal with the Big Guy in the sky. And they will have “hell” to pay, I believe. Instead, I am choosing to not return hate with hate. I am trying to focus compassion and sympathy towards those who are affected by this event. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering they are going through. My heart bleeds for them and I pray constantly that they find the strength to get through losing a loved one so unnecessarily.

I’m hoping some good will come of this event. But, to be honest, I have no idea what good could come from such an act. I am so depressed about all of this. I have not been affected like this since 9/11, which also had a special significance to me since I worked and lived near the Pentagon and watched the outer ring burn after the plane crash.

As Hoda Kotb said, a Dateline correspondent and VT grad, “I never imagined that this is the way Virginia Tech would likely go down in history.” It’s true. This horrible event is now what most of the world will think of when they think of Virginia Tech. Our school will never be the same again. We will always be brought up when something terrible happens like this. Since yesterday, I cringe whenever I hear the words “Virginia Tech” said. I’ve showed off my school with such pride to numerous friends, and now this.

For the first time in my life yesterday, I wasn’t proud to be a Hokie for a few minutes. This university I have loved so much since my Day 1 on campus in 1994 now left a bitter taste in my mouth. I have always loved not only our sports teams (as you can see in this blog), but the university as a whole. That’s why I was a tour guide in my days there. I loved sharing the campus with others and try to sell them on why they should come to VT. Since then, my degree has opened so many doors to me, brought me tons of happiness, and led to dozens of friendships with other Hokies. Suddenly, yesterday, I questioned all that in a knee-jerk reaction.

But then, over the course of the day, my pride returned. My pride returned watching newscasts and hearing broadcasters ask students, “You thinking of transferring?” Hearing those students emphatically reply, “No way,” made me proud. Seeing parents and students being interviewed on TV still in Virginia Tech gear made me proud. Hearing about heroes like the professor (Liviu Librescu – a Holocaust survivor) that lost his life while blocking the classroom door so his students could jump out the window made me proud. The support other schools have shown us on other message boards like make me proud. The Washington Nationals tribute of wearing VT hats in their game on Tuesday made me proud of the city I live and work in. These things showed our strength, our unity, our sacrifice. It showed good will among mankind. That’s what Virginia Tech is all about. We are one of the most tight-knit colleges I’ve ever seen, with pride in our university oozing out our pores (offensively, to some other schools, I might add).

Many people I work with couldn’t understand how upset I was yesterday. They couldn’t comprehend how much that place meant to me. And I even work on a college campus! It really showed to me how special VT is. I’ve received numerous emails and texts and calls from fellow Hokies, or good friends, that were devastated by this tragedy, too. My faith in the Hokie Nation is stronger than ever. We will get through this together. As I said to 2000 prospective students and their parents back in 1997, “I’m a Hokie, and I’m damn proud of it!”


This post was written by:

- who has written 1284 posts on Tech Hoops.

Niemo is a member of the VT Class of '98. While not a professional journalist by any stretch, Niemo analyzes and breaks down every minute of Hokie hoop action. He also researches topics of interest such as Hokie recruits, program revenue, statistical data on the team, previews VT opponents, and discusses his favorite bourbons/Scotches. In addition to his passion for Hokie hoops, Niemo has attended 126 straight VT football home games (every game since '94), eclipsing the 100 mark in September of '09 and recently attended his 20th consecutive VT/uva game. During the final home basketball game of his senior year, he was brought onto the court and was awarded 2 passes to the Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament in Philly during a timeout for being a "Super Fan" during his time at VT. The Hokie Bird made the award on behalf of Athletic Director Jim Weaver. Niemo was known to be in the front row of every home game with his familiar red afro hairdo.

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2 Responses to “Coping with the Massacre”

  1. DuffHokie says:

    Hokie Pride!! I am there with you.

  2. Niemo says:

    Here’s some comments from friends/family I wanted to share…

    I and four of my Public Affairs colleagues, here at UVA, got into a car early yesterday morning and headed to Blacksburg. We worked out of the media center set up at the Alumni Center until late yesterday evening. We spent
    the day on phones answering questions from media around the world and, yes even talking to family members of the victims. By doing this we were able to free up the VT University Relations staff to be else where on campus.

    The day was cathartic for me. Words can’t describe what we saw. I witnessed a community of whom I am now in awe. Obviously I always thought the Hokie’s were special. But they are beyond special. Our students, faculty and staff were incredible. I spent time with some of the families of the deceased and I am also in awe of the strength I saw there. My very UVAish colleagues couldn’t say enough positive things about what they witnessed. Their
    perceptions of Virginia Tech have forever been altered. as I believe have the perceptions of most in this country and the world. 

    As Nikki Giovanni said: “We are the Hokies. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech!”

    Go Hokies!

    Karen E. Torgersen
    Special Projects Manager for Marketing
    Development and Public Affairs
    The University of Virginia
    (Former VT Director of Admissions and daughter of former VT President Dr. Paul Torgersen)

    I thought your message was very well stated and appropriate. IU and Bloomington is a very tight nit community like Blacksburg. I can only imagine the pain your community is feeling. All will get better in time and I hope you feel better about the situation as VA Tech’s true colors are starting to show through to the whole nation as you all deal with this tragedy.

    -Mike Effron, indiana university

    I have been feeling all sorts of intense emotions too, simply because it’s a Virginian school (hits close) and because I know so many people that have such a passionate and unreserved spirit for the school. There’s something special there. You and others have taught me that the alumni base and following for VA|Tech is absolutely amazing… and I think a lot of people have trouble understanding that the bond does not just lie with the current students, but with anyone that has ever been to that school!

    When I was up late watching all of the interviews, I too was amazed and empowered by the spirit that all the kids were able to hold on to after everything. Reporters were pointing their questions, looking for blame, and each and every student stood strong and told the reporters that they were proud of their school and would continue to stand behind it. The pride lives on!

    Anyway, I hope this wasn’t too gushy or mushy. :o) Just wanted you to know that I understand that you and all your friends are going through a rough time. I’m thinking of you and you have full JMU support! (See image here: )

    -GC (jmu grad)

    nice piece…it’s hard to put into words how i feel…everytime i think about it my mind kinda just goes numb. it’s like there are too many thoughts at once and I can’t put anything together. confusion, anger, sympathy. i pictured myself just sitting there and having this happen (i actually had class in the building), and tried to put myself in the room. it’s just unbelievable. i think Jenny and i are going to a prayer service at our church tonight at 730. one of the prof’s killed was my dynamics professor soph year. one of the students killed was a patient at jenny’s practice. it’s amazing how things so far off can hit so close to home.

    – J. Long (VT Class of ’98)

    Nice post

    -Wick (Thank goodness for him he doesn’t get paid by the word)


    Taught at GMU last night in Arlington — got to class at 7:15 or so and
    hundreds of students (some in my class) in VA Tech shirts, colors, etc.

    Spontaneous connection and community emerges in the loveliest ways.

    Thinking of you

    -SB (gmu teacher)


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