Almost everyday we hear of a tragedy so horrible it’s difficult to comprehend. Like many, I see the suffering recounted in the media and when I am overwhelmed, I do what many cannot. I turn off the television, radio, or computer and step away from what is too painful to watch. Two years ago, my daughter was part of a community of people who became unwilling participants in a group memory they will always share. It’s one they can never turn off or step away from, nor is it likely one that they will ever forget.
A recent graduate of Virginia Tech, Miranda was in the last few weeks of her sophomore year when a fellow student went on what is now known as the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history by a single gunman. His actions disrupted the small town of Blacksburg’s sense peace and security and had a devastating effect on the lives of the families of 32 people, most of whom were parents of students at the university. While in no way comparable to the loss of a loved one, this tragedy has had a lasting effect on those who call themselves “Hokies.”
On the morning of April 16, 2007, I received a call from my daughter telling me there had been a shooting on campus. She was referring to the two students killed at the first site, but was at that point unaware of the shootings at Norris Hall, where 30 more people lost their lives.
She called me between 9:32 and 9:40 and I immediately turned to CNN to see what information I could pick up from the news. While on the phone together, we learned about the second shooting site at Norris Hall. The morning was cold and windy with a bit of light snow falling, feeling more like winter than the calendar would suggest. It was a combination of the weather and a high grade point average that made Miranda decided to skip her 8:00 am class and sleep in. That decision kept her safe that morning. She would say later that she would have been gone and on her way back to her residence hall by the time the shooter arrived at Norris and maybe so, but three of her classmates in her 8:00 class died that day in the next class they attended in Norris Hall.
She doesn’t like to talk about that day. Understandably so. She told me recently that when she talks of changing jobs, people ask about her degree and once they realize she is a VT grad, they always want to discuss the shooting. She obliges politely, but with reservations. She knows people have questions, but I don’t think at 21, they should look for the answers from her. I can’t begin to know what it’s like to be so young and to know and perhaps on some level dread being asked the same questions over and over. I know she’ll be remembering April 16 today, my fear as a mother is my concern that she may remember it everyday. There is a penetrating sadness for me and an awareness that I can’t kiss away her pain now or erase those memories with same distractions I could when she was a child.
As you would imagine, today is a Day of Remembrance at Virginia Tech. I wish Miranda could be there today with the same group of people who share her experience. Graduating early as she did in December, she seems to miss the feel of the place she called home for almost four years and a family and community of people who understand today even if they can’t really talk about it. I don’t know the private ways in which my daughter chooses to remember or forget, but I stand ready to listen or sit in silence, grateful that I did not lose the chance to do so now… on April 16, 2007.
I hope you’ll take a moment to remember the 32 who lost their lives that day and if 32 is too many to comprehend at one time, perhaps you can remember the three from Miranda’s 8:00 am class. I feel sure she’ll be thinking of them.
Their names are listed below…running with them in mind is my way of honoring their memory.
The picture at the top was taken by Miranda on April 17,2007 at the candlelight vigil for those who died.