April 19th, 2007


From a friend at Virginia Tech

This is from bigcatroary's brother, who is a professor at Virginia Tech:

From: Neal King
Date: 04/18/07 12:42:42
To: Neal King
Subject: from Virginia Tech
Family and friends,
I'm sending a mass mailing in order to answer friendly inquiries from
many of you, and to touch base with all of you. Thanks for your many
calls and notes. Toni and I have been appreciative of the opportunity
that this tragedy presents to catch up with people who are important
to us. Most of what follows is narrative.
Toni did not go to campus on Monday the 16th, elder daughter
Annamarie slept in at her apartment in town, and younger daughter
Marisa is finishing her freshman year at VCU, three hours away in
Richmond. I had a thesis defense to attend, which took place next
door to Norris Hall where and when the rampage occurred. By the time
that I emerged from this meeting, the killer was dead and the only
remaining police activity was to rescue the wounded and search for
accomplices. I walked away from the scene of the crimes toward my own
office, as police officers used the campus loudspeakers to order us
behind locked doors and away from windows for the next ninety
minutes. I spent that time in my office answering initial emails from
people who wondered what was going on, though I couldn't say that I
knew myself. Eventually, police sent us home. By that point, I still
had no idea of the extent of the violence. Since then, I've learned
from the same sources that most of you have. I won't bother repeating
the public information.
Once the extent of the violence became clear by early afternoon, Toni
and I worried for colleagues who had taught that morning in Norris
Hall. We began to await with dread the listing of the names of the
slain--a wait that continues as I write. It turns out that we knew
several among those killed, because of our ties to the foreign
language programs that hold classes in Norris. Annamarie's former
French teacher and her former study partner, as well as a friend with
whom she worked downtown, are gone. Toni and I had befriended the
professor of German; and I work with his wife (now widow) in film
studies. Marisa had known one of the younger students from her high
school days. The rest of the names will be announced soon; and I fear
that we may recognize even more. People in the foreign language and
engineering programs account for most of the casualties. We share in
their families' grief, though we were fortunate not to be directly
hurt in the day's events.
Yesterday's convocation was intended to provide good news and good
cheer for the grieving survivors. To that end, politicians from
across the state gathered in our coliseum, including every one of the
Commonwealth's representatives and senators in Congress, our
governor, and the presidents of the university and the United States.
Toni and I sat close enough to the dais that we could see Jim Webb
seated a few seats down from the Bushes, and so forth. The marching
band had lost a member and attended in full dress to honor him. Our
Cadet Corps honor guard provided funereal drumming and posted the
colors. The good news about the series of speakers was that Mr. Bush
was subdued and didn't distract from the locals; the governor spoke
of community; the university president received warm support from the
crowd though he is under fire for the police mistake that allowed the
gunman to roam for two hours. Finally, our local poet laureate
brought the house down with her ode to school spirit. Students had
dressed in the school colors, and the event resembled a star-studded
spirit rally. An overflow crowd of tens of thousands got sunburned in
the stadium next door as they watched the event on a big screen.
Several thousand gathered on the drill field last night for a
candlelit memorial with a very different tone. Today, campus is
quiet, with students leaving for a long weekend now that classes and
events have been cancelled for the week. We have no idea what to
expect next week--how many will return, and to what extent the
semester will resume as normal.
We are left with our grief over friends we have lost, relief at not
having been hurt more directly, and concern for colleagues as they
return to work. For instance, Toni has taught many classes in Norris
, in the very rooms in which people were killed. It will be difficult
to feel that same about that part of the job. Norris has been sealed
for the semester, and people have talked of turning its classrooms
into memorials. The many engineers who kept offices there will move.
(At least one of those engineers gave his life so that students could
shelter in his locked office while he explored ways for them to
escape; another lost his life barricading his classroom door so that
students could flee through the windows.)
Next, we will attend funerals, spend lots of time with friends,
finish the semester, and look forward to Marisa's return from the
relative safety of urban Richmond. Anna is deciding which
Southeastern university to attend in the fall.
Thanks again for the many notes and calls. I look forward to catching
up with you individually, but wanted to share a few stories with all
of you at this time. May your own spring be warm and pleasant.
Much love,
Neal King
Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
Lane Hall (0227)
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061
tel: 540 231 8174
fax: 540 231 7013
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