Today marks the five year anniversary of the horrific shootings that occurred on April 16, 2007 on the campus of Virginia Tech. From that day forward April 16th became a hard day for the Hokie family. We now call it a Day of Remembrance. A day where we all pause and remember the 32 innocent lives that were lost. Each year since the shooting I reflect on and around the anniversary. This year I deicided to write about that day. I was too close for comfort, teaching only two buildings over from where the shooting occurred on that tragic day.
Today I remember.
I remember it was a Monday that started with atypical snow flurrries. I remember how it felt to be inside McBryde Hall as classes changed at 9:55 a.m. knowing that someone had been shot, yet not having enough other information at the time to know the extent of the situation. I remember not knowing if I should leave the building or stay inside. I remember not knowing just how bad things were. I remember leaving McBryde Hall and running into a colleague on my walk back to Shanks Hall. I remember trying to piece together the limited amount of information we had at the time. I remember seeing more ambulances than I had ever seen at one time, in one place. I remember covering my ears to dull the shrill sounds of their sirens blaring over and over again. I remember the frenzied rush of people scurrying between buildings just not quite sure where to go. I remember hearing someone say the word “triage” as I scurried into my building. I remember trying to hold back the tears. I remember sitting in my office by myself on lock-down for over three hours. I remember watching the story erupt online. I remember watching the death toll rise, unable to believe what I was reading. I remember sending an email to my family and a few close friends. I remember walking to my car after they lifted the lock-down mandate. I remember feeling dazed. I remember crying. I remember watching the story erupt on news channels all across the world when I got home. I remember watching the story erupt right outside my window in the days to come. I remember calling my family. I remember exchanging “I love you’s” with them and so many close friends. I remember not knowing what to do. I remember attending the Memorial Service in Cassell Coliseum. I remember listening to President George W. Bush speak. I remember the most painful moment of silence I have ever endured. I remember watching the ambulance and rescue crew process into the Coliseum. I remember wondering what it must have been like for them to walk inside Norris Hall in the aftermath. I remember someone telling me that the rescue crew and paramedics heard cell phones ringing that would never be answered. I remember listening to Nikki Giovanni’s now famous speech. I remember feeling the first small sliver of hope. I remember the Coliseum breaking into a spontaneous chorus of “Go Hokies!” as no one knew what else to do. I remember the sadness and anger and confusion in the days that followed. I remember weeping for the victims and their families as the horrible truth sunk in. I remember thinking it could have been me. I remember giving and receiving hugs with complete strangers, with students, with other faculty, with superiors, with people I otherwise would not have hugged. I remember seeing camera crews, reporters, and signs of the media all over campus. I remember the story continuing to erupt right outside my window. I remember the banners from other schools that were mailed, the cards, the quilts, the names appearing on placards that would be forever ingrained in my heart. I remember attending a candlelight vigil. I remember wearing the same Virginia Tech fleece every day that week. I remember pinning a maroon and orange ribbon to the lapel. I remember maroon and orange ribbons everywhere. I remember mourning. I remember not understanding how someone could senselessly kill 32 people. I remember not understanding how it could have happened at Virginia Tech, one of the most special places on Earth. I remember feeling frustration about how this crime tainted the views of Virginia Tech worldwide. I remember sadness as they tried to point the blame on the administration. I remember praying. I remember trying to move forward during the week classes were canceled. I remember the survivors from Norris Hall stepping forward and sharing their harrowing stories of survival, some of which involved jumping out of windows. I remember them recounting professors who jumped in front of doors to save their lives. I remember thinking no one should ever have to endure such tribulations. I remember the Hokie spirit fighting back against the pain. I remember the Virginia Tech community coming together as a family. I remember more vigils, more banners, and more hugging, all signs of healing. I remember smiles through the tears, spontaneous “Go Hokies!” on campus, and leaders stepping forward to pick up the pieces of a broken campus, all signs hope emerging. I remember my brothers and a few friends making the trip to Blacksburg to help show support and pay homage to the victims. I remember walking back into the classroom only one week after the shooting. I remember trying to be strong for my students. I remember knowing I would never forget. neVer forgeT.
I am only one person among many with memories from this day. I am not alone in how I feel, but I am forever reminded of the fragility of human life and the power of the human spirit.
Today I remember.