Monday, April 16, 2012

Live for 32

Every Hokie has his/her story on April 16, 2007.  This is mine.  I cannot tell you how many times I've rewritten this; for me, the events of that Monday morning are indescribable. Thank you for taking a moment out of your day to read this; it's cathartic for me to share this experience with you, and I believe that it's an important story to share.

Update, 4/16/14: I've been asked to place a trigger warning on this post, so I recommend that you take caution in reading this post.

* * *

"Did you check your e-mail?"

"No.  I probably should've.  Why?" 

"There was a shooting in West AJ this morning."

"... What?"

I stared at my hall mate, Allison, in utter disbelief. She explained that Virginia Tech had recently distributed a brief email alerting everyone that a shooting had occurred in West Ambler Johnson, the largest dormitory on campus, around 7:15 that morning.  It was now a little past 9:00 a.m.

"Was anyone seriously injured?"

"They didn't say.  They haven't even caught the guy yet."

I finished locking my dorm room door and headed for the staircase at the other end of the long hallway.

"You're still going to class?" Allison called after me.

"Yeah.  I've gotta go fail an exam."

"Be safe."

It was flurrying when I embarked on my trek toward Pamplin Hall.  Listening to Cake on my iPod, my mind was preoccupied with remembering who the cinematographers were for William Friedkin's The Exorcist while the other half was wondering why I was still with my boyfriend, Sean.  Ever since we left for college, our phone conversations consisted of argument after argument.  It was easy to become irritated over the most trivial matters when he was six and a half hours away at Christopher Newport University.  He didn't deserve to deal with that.

My walk to class.
I was halfway across the Drill Field when I first heard the gunshots.  After pausing my iPod, I was almost certain that the "cracks" were emanating from the construction site on Stanger Street.  They continued, echoing off of West Eggleston and War Memorial Gym behind me.  Crack.  Crack-crack.  Crack.  Crack.


West Eggleston and War Memorial Gym
Something didn't seem right.  My insides screamed at me to turn around.  But I had to get to Pamplin Hall early to study for my Literature and Film exam; I pushed onward.

Drill Field Drive
The shrieking sirens of two police cars and an ambulance soon replaced the cracks; the trio raced past Torgersen Bridge and disappeared behind McBryde Hall.  I tentatively crossed Drill Field Drive and, planning to cut through the Burruss Hall tunnel, I climbed the steps leading to Norris Hall.

Norris Hall
Five men in black uniforms appeared seemingly out of nowhere, walking briskly to crouch around the front doors of Norris.  They carried assault rifles the size of baseball bats and used rapid hand gestures to signal to one another.  The man in front cautiously reached for the door handle, but there was a jingling sound, and the door wouldn't open.

Norris Hall
That's when the screams sounded, and the thuds of students as they wrenched themselves through Norris's second story windows.  Blood was smeared across their faces, their hands, their clothes.  Some stumbled through the overgrown bushes and away from the building while others crawled through the yellowed grass.  

I stood frozen in my tracks.  A dozen other Virginia Tech students gathered around me, like helpless sheep.

Crack-crack.  Crack.  Crack.  Louder now, coming directly from Norris.  It suddenly occurred to me what these sounds were.

A police-marked Ford Explorer crashed onto the sidewalk in front of Burruss Hall.  The doors flung open and four policemen emerged with their handguns out of their holsters. 

One policeman grabbed a boy nearest to him and yelled, "DON'T go to class!  RUN!" 

We ran.  Like hell.

The cold wind bit my face; tears and tiny snowflakes stung my cheeks as I slowed down to a panicked walk on the Drill Field midway between Slusher Tower and Pamplin Hall.

Slusher Tower to the right
I couldn't think.  I couldn't function.  Yanking out my cell phone from the pocket of my hoodie, my thumbs were too frozen to dial my mom's work number.

"Hi sweetie," she cheerfully answered.  It was an ordinary Monday for her.

"Mom.  Is there anything about Tech on the news?"

"Why?  What's going on?" she demanded.

"I think William Morva's back." (William Morva was an escaped convict who killed two Blacksburg police officers on Tech's first day of classes in August 2006.)

It was impossible to phrase what exactly was going on.  Somewhere between my hysterics of gunshots, policemen, and blood, my mom interrupted by directing me to go straight to my dorm room and lock the door.  As she was telling me this, I spotted Mikey, a boy who was in my high school graduating class.  Without saying a word, I grabbed his coat sleeve and dragged him to the residential side of campus with me.

West Eggleston Wind Tunnel
My mom, in a panic, hung up to call my brother, Cory.  As Mikey and I entered the West Eggleston wind tunnel, we looked back at massive group of students, who, by this time, had congregated at the intersection of the Drill Field. Suddenly, every single one of them took off running straight for us.  Their screams pierced through the morning air.

O'Shag Hall
By the time I reached O'Shaughnessy Hall, my dorm, I had barely regained my senses. My sixth floor hall buzzed with several girls who had returned from campus, just as I had; others stood in their doorways, still dressed in pajamas.  Some were crying, a few were frantically calling their friends, and a couple were yelling hysterically.

No one knew what was going on.  Tech had sent another email telling us little more about the original shooting in West AJ, but besides that, we knew nothing.

"What is going on out there?" my roommate, Tameka, mumbled half-asleep from her loft bed when I keyed into our room.

"There's been a shooting."

"What?  No.  You serious?  Where?" Tameka was already climbing out of her bed.  I didn't have time to answer.  My cell phone started ringing; it was my brother, who was a senior at Virginia Tech.

"Kirsten, what's going on?" Cory demanded, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," I reassured, watching Tameka as she turned on the TV to check the local news station.  "I don't know what's happening.  Where are you?"

"At my apartment.  I slept through my alarm -- I'm supposed to be in class," Cory continued, "Mom said you saw police in front of a building.  Which building?"

"I don't know what it's called -- I haven't had a class there yet."

"I need to know which building.  Casey's in class right now," Cory's voice cracked, referring to his girlfriend.

"Hold on, I've got a campus map," I began, fumbling blindly through my desk drawers.  My eyes could barely focus on the handwritten labels of each academic building.  "It was next to Burruss."

"Burruss?" Cory demanded, "Casey's in Williams Hall -- to the left of Burruss."

"No, no, no -- this building was to the right of Burruss," I reassured, spotting it on the map.  "Norris Hall.  It was Norris."

I could hear the relief in Cory's voice, "Oh, okay, thank God.  Thanks.  I'm going to try to call her -- maybe she's out of class by now."

Around 10:30, we received an email saying that classes were cancelled for the remainder of the day and mandated that all on-campus residents remain in their rooms with their doors locked, and stay away from windows.

The local news station covered what little was known about the situation first.  Then it was broadcasted on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, everywhere.  Locked in our room armed with my baseball bat and hockey stick, Tameka and I didn't have time to watch the news because we began to receive dozens upon dozens of phone calls from frantic friends and family.

My mom, who worked in public relations, called, saying that she knew a New York Times reporter who wished to talk to me. I consented.

"Kristen, tell me... what... you saw... as going... class," the reporter shouted into his cell phone. Our phone connection was spotty, and I heard blips of rapid talking, cursing, car honking, and the sounds of passing semi-trucks on the other line -- the male reporter was en route to Blacksburg to cover the story. "Anything... would... great."

"I..." I began, hesitantly glancing at Tameka, who was eyeing me suspiciously, "I was walking to class, listening to my iPod. I heard these cracks -- thought they were construction. As I was heading into Burruss, I looked up and saw... at least 10 guards -- looked almost like SWAT team members with assault rifles aiming at the main entrance of Norris."

"Did... know... happening?"

"No, I... had no idea what was happening."

Verizon customers soon lost cell phone service, so we used AOL Instant Messenger and Facebook to get in touch with everyone. My inbox became flooded with messages from classmates who I barely talked to from high school. I, too, desperately messaged everyone I knew at Tech; I was relieved to hear that my good friend, Evan, was okay, as were John and Michael, my two closest high school friends.

Pandemonium ensued during the lockdown. Rumors, spread through Facebook and AIM, claimed that there were bomb threats in dorms and a shooter loose in nearby Lee Hall and Cassell Coliseum. My RA warned us to ignore the fire alarm if it went off; the police thought that it would be a ploy for the gunman to open fire against a group on unsuspecting students. Armed policemen were everywhere: guarding the dorms, blockading Washington Street, and camped in the basketball courts between O'Shag and Pritchard. I didn't realize there were so many policemen in Montgomery County.

O'Shag, Lee, and Pritchard Hall Basketball Courts
"What is that?" Tameka whispered at one point, hastily turning off the television.

I listened, and heard footsteps in our hallway -- heavy footsteps made by someone wearing oversized work boots. They crept down the long corridor toward our room, pausing at each doorway. The amount of panic and fear that we heard as the footsteps approached us was unimaginable. I wanted to believe that it was a policeman, a RA, or someone harmless patrolling the dorms, but we didn't know what to think, to feel, to do. An ominous shadow cast underneath our door when he had reached us, and we held our breaths for what felt like an eternity before he started his trek back down the hallway.

We didn't know who the shooter was, what he/she looked like, or even how many there were. All we knew was that there was a shooting in West AJ at 7:15, and two hours later at 9:20, there was another in Norris. For that reason, we trusted no one.

Despite all of this, it never occurred to me how severe the situation was until the news anchors began numbering the casualties.  First it was two from the incident in West AJ.  Then it was eight to 10 from Norris. Suddenly, it jumped to 20.

President Steger's 12:00 p.m. Press Conference
Source
President Steger held a press conference with the Montgomery County police chief at noon.  There, they officially declared that the shooter had committed suicide and that there were 32 confirmed causalities.

Thirty-two.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in silence in my dorm room.  Even with the lockdown lifted, I didn't feel safe venturing outside.  I watched the news and spoke with friends over AIM.  There were no jokes, no laughter, no smiles.  I threw up a bowl's worth of chicken ramen noodles when a friend mentioned that she saw me quoted in a New York Times article.  I Googled my name to find out that I was also quoted on countless other websites and articles.  Had I known a better sense of what was going on that day, I would have chosen my words more carefully to that reporter.

Pritchard Hall
At 6:00 p.m., Evan sent me a message asking if I wanted to hang out and talk.  I needed to talk.  Badly.  He escorted me from O'Shag to Pritchard because I was scared to walk by myself.  We sat in his dorm room and talked for a while about a bunch of things I don't remember.  Evan was a RA, so at one point, there was a knock on the door. One of his residents stood in the hallway, his dark cheeks stained with tears.

"Jon.  You ok, man?" Evan asked.

"Yeah, I was hoping they gave you a list.  Of names," Jon stammered.  His shoulders were bent low.  His left hand dug into his pocket and the other hang in the air, his fingers quivering.  He looked completely vulnerable.  Helpless.

"Names?"

"She hasn't answered my calls.  My texts," Jon's choked words were almost indecipherable.  "Her roommate hasn't seen her since she left for class..."

I bit my lip and turned to stare out the window.  My eyes burned from their fight against tears.

"I'm sorry, man.  I don't have a list.  I don't know if anyone does," I heard Evan murmur.  Jon merely nodded his head, thanked Evan, and walked out the door.

Evan slumped into his desk chair.  Shortly thereafter, he received an email from one of his fraternity brothers asking if he wanted to go to Macado's for a late dinner.  Evan invited me along, but I politely declined.  As Evan was locking his door, I noticed that Jon's door was open; I knocked on Jon's doorframe.  Jon turned away from his computer and I walked over to him and gave him a long hug.  His shoulders were still trembling.  It was all I could do.

Tameka was packing her bookbag to spend the night at the rugby house once I arrived back to our room.  I didn't blame her -- everyone I knew was getting picked up by their parents and friends and it felt eerie to be one of the few left on campus.  Cory later invited me to stay at his place, but I didn't feel comfortable waiting on Washington Street alone that night, waiting for him to pick me up.

Sean called.  It was nice to hear his voice (and to finally have cell phone service).  I began spewing everything about the day's events and cried for the first time.  Sean tried being helpful and reassuring, but he couldn't quite understand why I was so upset about it.  Now, thinking back on it, I understand that he was used to this sort of thing; he and his family used to live in Abuja and Cote de I'voire where schools had "coups days" instead of snow days.  What resulted in a slight misunderstanding escalated into yet another fight and I hung up on him during a time in which all I needed was someone to talk to.

I was grateful when Evan messaged me a few hours later after he got back from Macado's.  We agreed to meet outside O'Shag for a second time.  Evan was more somber than he was before.  When he returned to his dorm room, he described how his fraternity brother, Nik, was hounded by the media during dinner -- somehow they knew that he survived unscathed from Norris that morning.

"Nik told them, 'I'm eating with my friends right now, but I'll be happy to talk to you after we're done.' The reporters and cameras gave him some time, but then kept returning, like vultures, to our table," Evan recalled, shaking his head in disgust, "Finally they just wouldn't take no for an answer.  Nik's story was more important to them than for Nik to spend time with his friends."

Evan left for a bathroom break, and I overheard him talking in the hallway to his residents on his way back.  A short while later, he returned to his room and collapsed onto his bed in one heap.  Staring at the ceiling, he told me that he had known someone who had died, a RA.

Evan told me a story about when he first met Ryan Christopher "Stack" Clark.  He encountered Chandler and Stack near West End Dining Hall, who were debating where McBryde Hall was in relation to where they were standing.  Apparently Chandler pointed toward Chem-Physics and Stack was certain that it was in the exact opposite direction toward Cassell Coliseum.  Both of them were way off.

While he was telling me this simple story, Evan burst into tears.  Stack was not only a RA, but played the baritone for the Marching Virginians and triple majored in English, Psychology, and Biology -- all the while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.  He was a senior and only had three weeks left before he could've graduated.

Stack
Source
I decided to spend the night at Evan's because it was almost 3:00 in the morning and I did not feel comfortable sleeping by myself in my empty dorm.  We split his bed, him curled in a fetal position on one side of the bed and me on the other side.

Hours crawled by.  The morning light cascaded through Evan's broken blinds.  I hadn't slept.  My eyes burned from tears, from the lack of sleep, from staring too long at televisions and computer screens.  Evan lay on the opposite end of his twin bed.  He stirred his feet slightly, brushing a toe against mine.  I doubt that he had been able to sleep either.

"Evan," I eventually croaked, "I keep having nightmares."

Evan immediately climbed to my side of his bed and enveloped me with his arms.  My tear ducts erupted.  I thought of the plague of silence that swept across my hall during President Steger's news conference.  I thought of the hundreds of emails I received from frantic friends and family.  I thought of Jon's tears when he knew that he had lost a friend.  I thought of how much our lives had been altered in just 24 hours.

I didn't think of Sean.

In the early morning hours of April 17, Evan kissed me.  Just once.  I left his room shortly thereafter, completely and utterly confused.  I had previously thought of him as nothing more than a good friend, probably my best friend at Tech.  We had met in our British Literature Class in January, and in that short amount of time, I grew to trust him and love him as a friend.  After that morning, however, I was in such a whirlwind of emotions that I didn't know what to think.

Tameka returned to our room shortly after I did and we reluctantly turned on the news; they had finally released the names of the 32 victims.  Ryan Christopher "Stack" Clark (22).  Emily Hilscher (19).  Professor Liviu Librescu (76). Minal Panchal (26).  Professor G. V. Loganathan (53).  Jarrett Lane (22).  Brian Bluhm (25).  Matthew Gwaltney (24).  Jeremy Herbstritt (27).  Partahi Lumbantoruan (34).  Daniel O'Neil (22).  Juan Ortiz-Ortiz (25).  Julia Pryde (23).  Waleed Shaalan (32).  Professor Christopher James "Jamie" Bishop (35). Lauren McCain (20).  Michael Pohle, Jr. (23).  Maxine "Max" Turner (22).  Nichole White (20).  Madame Jocelyne Couture-Nowak (49).  Ross Alameddine (20).  Austin Cloyd (18).  Daniel Perez Cueva (21).  Caitlin Hammaren (19).  Rachael Hill (18).  Matthew La Porte (20).  Henry Lee (20).  Erin Peterson (18).  Mary Karen Read (19).  Reema Samaha (18).  Leslie Sherman (20).  Kevin Granata (45).


All of these undergraduates, graduate students, and professors died because of the actions of one troubled and disturbed young man.  That man, Seung-Hui Cho, was someone I knew, someone who shared classes with me, someone who was an English major, just like me.  Though his short stories and plays were disconcerting, I had never imagined that he was a threat to our school.  His quiet nature was not portrayed in the menacing pictures and videos he had sent to NBC Studios.

I went on Facebook and saw that I had a message from Sarah, a friend from my Literature and Film class.  She told me that Maxine Turner, one of the 32 victims, had been in that class with us.  Shocked, I looked Maxine up on Facebook because I didn't recognize her name.  Oh my God.  Max!  When I saw her Facebook page, and saw that she had more than 150 wall postings from her friends and family asking her if she was safe, I froze.

Max
Source
I needed to get out of there.  Staggering out of my room with my towels and shower caddy, I stumbled into the bathroom, turned on a shower, and stepped fully-clothed into the frigid water.  I lost it.  I had never cried that hard or that long in my entire life.  Max was the girl I never made an effort to talk to.  She sat two rows in front of me every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I often saw her in the hallways between classes.  Did I ever say hi?  Did I ever ask her how her day was going?  Did I ever wish her to have a good weekend?  No.  I have regretted not saying anything to Maxine every single day for the past five years.

Later that morning, my RA walked room-to-room to let us know that Tech was hosting a memorial convocation at noon in Cassell Coliseum, our basketball arena.  President Bush, the first lady, and Governor Tim Kaine were flying in by helicopter to be there.  She warned us that it was going to be a media storm and that we weren't obligated to answer any reporters unless we wanted to.

I made arrangements to go to the convocation with my friend Kimberly.  Evan texted me to ask if he could meet me there.  As I was texting back and forth with Evan, I thought of Jon.  According to Evan, Jon hadn't left his room, but perked up at my invitation to go with us to the convocation.

Kimberly and I met Jon outside of West End dining hall.  I gave him another long hug, and he seemed to be in better spirits.  He even cracked a smile or two.  The three of us passed by row after row of media trucks and vans on our route to Cassell.  There was a much larger turnout than expected; once Cassell was full, the police directed the rest of the public into Lane Stadium to watch the convocation on the jumbo tron.

Source
We met Evan and his fraternity brothers on the 40 yard line.  Lane Stadium was packed with students, parents, Blacksburg residents, and the media.  We sat in the withered grass and watched the president's helicopter land on the football practice field.  Evan kept glancing nervously at me, unsure of how I felt about that morning's events.  I untied his shoelaces in a playful manner -- it was the only thing I could do to let him know that everything was okay.

President Steger, President Bush, and Governor Tim Kaine spoke at the convocation.  Hushed whispers and muffled cries were heard throughout the stadium.  But it wasn't until Nikki Giovanni, an English professor at Virginia Tech, went up to the podium to speak when there was any sense of closure to the massacre.


Listening to Nikki's speech was singlehandedly the most emotional moment of my life.

Source
Writing this, the events of April 16, 2007 are so vivid in my mind that it feels as though it happened only last week.  I remember that day even more so than my own wedding day.

I grew up in the DC metropolitan area, desensitized by the constant reports of needless violence.  After this ill-fated day, I witnessed something that I had never seen before:  a mass gathering of students, teachers, and townspeople, holding their candles high and crying into the shoulders of complete strangers.  The community's strength, resilience, and endurance from those days onward were truly admirable.  

April 17, 2007 Candlelight Vigil
Source
The outreach we received from around the world was humbling. For weeks afterward, the Drill Field was decorated with gifts, posters, flowers, and cards expressing "We are all Hokies" from mourners in other towns, at other universities, in other states, and other countries.


April 16 lifted the blindfold from my eyes, reminded me that the daily stresses of life are insignificant, and taught me that every single day and every single person in our lives are precious. If you really, honestly love someone, then go to them. Be with them. Cherish every moment you have together. If you don't, you'll only regret it, and you may not be privileged with a second chance.

I just wish that it didn't take 32 lives for me to realize this.

April 16 Memorial
So, for now, God bless our fallen Hokies and each one of the survivors. Live, laugh, love, and lament for our beloved 32. I know I always will.

A bench next to the April 16 Memorial.
Hugs to each and every one of you, and thank you for reading this.

51 comments:

  1. I wish I knew the right thing to say. I think it's important that you shared your story. I'm so sorry that you and your fellow classmates had to endure such a life changing event. I hope that others will read this and take your message of living their lives to the fullest to heart. I know I will.

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    1. Jenny, thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog post today. Your comment got me through this morning. Thank you.

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  2. I've read this several times, Kirsten, and each time I'm taken aback by how poignantly and beautifully you relate it. You truly are a gifted writer, but it's more than that-- you have an amazing ability to make your reader feel how you felt. Such a powerful thing. This is definitely such an important story to convey and to remember... Thank you for sharing. I love you so much!

    -Bethany

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    1. Bethany, I adore you and wish I could give you the world's biggest hug. Thank you, thank you, thank you for always being so supportive of me. I'm speechless, that's how thankful I am right now. Love you too!

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  3. I'm at work, on a phone conference, and I'm tearing up reading this. I don't know what to say, other than to thank you for sharing this story. I admit, I had to read the About Me page again, to see if you married Evan :-) Thank you for posting this to remind us all to live in each moment - hugs to you!

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    1. Chiwei, I was on a conference call, too, when I read your comment, and you got me all teared up, as well! I really can't thank you enough for reading this post. It means the world to me.

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  4. Thank you for this, Kirsten. I don't think there's a better way to honor the people whose lives were taken that day than by remembering, sharing their stories, and learning from the tragedy our community suffered. I'm grateful for your ability to convey the terrible sadness of that day while still ending on an inspiring, positive note. Your story has really moved me.

    Again, thank you.

    -Katlyn Amos

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    1. I should be the one thanking you, Katlyn, for taking the time to read this today. It's comments like yours that make me want to write and write some more. I can't thank you enough. I hope that you were able to enjoy the sunshine out on the Drill Field today, even if it was just between classes. Miss you!

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  5. Thank you for sharing your memories and insight. I didn't lose anyone personally in this tragedy, I wouldn't have remembered the significance of the date if it hadn't been for your courageous post. I will pray for everybody who was changed or lost.

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    1. Thank you! Your kind words have certainly helped me get through today. It was very sweet of you.

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  6. I was in that Bliss Lit/Film class with you. I was running late for that stupid test, missed the bus and had to walk over from my house behind Macados. Getting ready to cross Washington to the commuter lot, a cop jumped out of his car and started screaming at a few of us walking to go home. I tried to reason something along the lines of "but bro, my professor is this evil little dude who lives for failing cats" and the cop was KID TURN AROUND DO IT NOW. So I did. And CNN was on when I got home.

    I was in the band with Stack. I helped some of the tones serve as a pallbearer that next Monday at his funeral in Georgia, so I wasn't back that next Monday when the reporter came in and Bliss got real.

    I saw some of band buddies posting to this writing on facebook, and I'm glad I got to read it. Obviously being in that class, knowing Stack and knowing Max, kinda hit close to home. I hope you are doing ok today.

    Mike Buck

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    1. MIKE!! How are you doing!? You sat right next to me all the time -- you played tuba for the Marching Virginians. I can't tell you how excited I am about this.

      I busted out laughing when you described Professor Bliss as a this evil little dude... how true. That guy. Man. Words can't even describe him.

      Unfortunately, I never had a chance to meet Stack. But I know at least a dozen people who did, and they all considered him to be one of the greatest people they ever knew. The stories about him are endless. What a truly amazing guy. Thank you for serving as a pallbearer at his funeral.

      I am very thankful that that cop ordered you to go home. I hope that you were able to have some fun today, and that you are doing well. And thank you for reading this post -- it really means a lot to me. Keep in touch!

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  7. I'm a fairly recent VT alum who saw your blog via a friend's page on Facebook. Thank you for this, Kirsten. For the personal account that those of us who were there can relate to. For the videos and images. And for the short segment about Stack which just further proves how widely his incredible friendship was shared.

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    1. Bryce, thank you so much for reading this post and leaving a comment -- truly, comments like yours are the reason why I write. At the candlelight vigil today, they mentioned Stack as a "friend collector." I think that pretty much sums him up right there -- once you met him, you were instantly his friend. I hope you made it through today ok, and go Hokies!

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  8. I sat one seat away from Mary Read in a music ensemble every Monday night that semester and I never talked to her. It's one of my life's biggest regrets. You're not alone. Thanks for your beautiful words.

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    1. Thank you, thank you for telling me this. I've had this sense of guilt for so long. I've been trying to reverse it by making an effort to talk to people I don't even know. It feels good to do that. I am so sorry to hear that you knew Mary. The words that they spoke about her during tonight's candlelight vigil were incredibly touching. Please know that it is not your fault that you didn't speak to her. She understands. Hope you are doing well!

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  9. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post, Kirsten. I agree that the best way to heal is to share, write and talk about it. My heart goes out to you and all the other Hokies.

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    1. Amy, I miss you and thank you for always being so supportive. You've always been that way. It means the world to me that you read this post today. Thank you.

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  10. This is amazing. I have never read about the Virginia Tech Shooting until today--I attend Walsh University with Jordan Luli [you may know him! :)] and he told me to read this article. I'm really glad I did; I cannot picture myself in the situation you were put in, let alone the whole school. I honestly would have teared up if my roommate wasn't in the same room as me! Your story makes me feel like I was there with you, I couldn't stop reading from the start. You're an amazing writer and thank you for sharing your life-changing experience.

    Thank you,
    Jeremy Penn

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    1. Jordan's my cousin! Give him a hug for me, will ya? :D

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post, Jeremy. I wanted it to be something that everyone could read and could relate to in some way. Your comment seriously made my evening. Thank you.

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  11. As a student who got here in 2008, I have never seen what VT looked like without that memorial in front of Burruss. Reading testimonies like yours helps me picture what it was like to be here on that day, and inspires me more and more to make them proud.

    At the vigil tonight it sounded like each one was such an amazing person who would undoubtedly go on to change the world (if they hadn't already). In a way, I guess they all did. I just wish it didn't have to happen like that.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and thanks for giving all of us a little insight into what it means to live for 32.

    Best wishes,
    Greg Gates

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  12. Thanks for sharing your story. Even if I wasn't a student then, as a freshman, I went to my first candlelight vigil tonight. Thank you for letting us know what it means to live for 32.

    (also this made me cry.)

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  13. Thank you so much for sharing this. I was also in that Film/Lit class, and so much of your story echoes my own. The moments you wrote about are the ones I can't forget - especially about Maxine. I clearly remember the regret I felt, and still feel, about all the opportunities I had to speak with her that I didn't take. Things like that - tragic as they are - are rarely talked about, and your post explained them so beautifully.

    - Lauren Rossi

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  14. Thank you so much for writing this. I couldn't stop reading, and my heart broke for you. I've always wondered what I would have done if I had been there. I attend Tech currently and I have never been prouder of a group of people I've never met as I am of Hokie Nation. You are obviously a strong woman and an inspiration.

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  15. Kirsten,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. As a proud Hokie from the Class of 2001, I watched the events of that day unfold on the internet and the occasional TV here at work. It ripped my heart out to see my beloved campus and Hokie family in so much pain. But watching news coverage that night, I saw the resolve and unity of you students who were there, and I couldn't have been prouder. Each and every student interviewed stood steadfast in the face of the tragedy, and when asked if they would transfer from or leave the school, all said no - Virginia Tech was their home.

    We may be strangers but we are both members of the Hokie family, so please accept my well wishes and hugs. :) Stay strong and Go Hokies!

    Chad

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  16. Kirsten, the way to tell this tragic story is truly beautiful. Thanks for taking the time to share it! Reading your account made me think back to where I was at the time, and how scary your experience must have been.

    I can't get over that it was snowing that day and yesterday it was almost 90 degrees! Crazy!

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  17. This is undoubtedly the best written tribute to that sad day. It means so much for a hokie like me.

    I wasn't there during the time of the shooting but i went to VT later for my masters 2009-2011. And i felt the love and togetherness that incident brought to the hokie nation. April 16 will always be a special day in my calendar. I am so sorry you have to go through such experience. From a fellow hokie and from each and every one of hokie nation, you, me and we will share the love and compassion to live, love, share and continue to invent the future. God bless Hokies!!

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  18. I just had to say thank you. I never quite know how to process my emotions when it comes around to this time every year, especially since I'm no longer living in Blacksburg. This made me cry and I think that's what I needed. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

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  19. I'm a current VT student, and even though my brother was two buildings away at the time of the shooting I never really could relate. But after the comparably small tragedy we suffered in December, the candlelight vigil yesterday, and reading this I feel like I can understand a little better what all of you went through. I'm especially struck by your story of Maxine, as I went to school with/ rode the bus with Reema Samaha but we never actually spoke. I thank you for allowing me to relate and properly grieve for all of the victims.

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  20. Your post is being passed around Facebook - thank you for your beautiful words. As an incoming Student in Fall 2007 I know how important it is to pass on these experiences to share with future Hokies so we will always remember. The vigil yesterday was just as beautiful as the past 4 I have been to, filled with young students as well. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

    HOKIES UNITED <3 <3 <3

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  21. I have just sat here and cried reading this.... Thinking of all the people affected by that horrible tragedy. This is such a great tribute to the ones that lost their lives and a great reminder to show our loved ones how much they are loved everyday. Thank you.

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  22. What a horrible, horrible day. I was in DC at the time and my heart just goes out to all of you. Things like this just shouldn't happy to young people at the beginning of their lives.

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  23. I just don't have the words to express the feeling that I'm having right now. As I sat here and read this, although never having attended or even seen Virginia Tech in person for that matter, I couldn't help but place myself back on my old college campus. College life holds such a special place in our minds and hearts for our entire lives, but I can't imagine what something like this would do to that. My heart goes out to each and every person involved in everything about this. What a horrible tragedy but what an amazing way for you to heal from those wounds. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. God Bless you and each and every person affected by this tragedy.

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  24. Thank you for sharing this story! I remember that day like it was yesterday even though I didn't attend VT I had many friends and family there at the time.

    Megan

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  25. Hey Kirsten, My name is Stacey and i live near wytheville in Va, which is about 45 mins from VT. I remember watching the events unfold on the news that day, but not the same memories you have. I am truly sorry that you had to experience any part of that! And you are so right, LIVE, LAUGH, and LOVE life to it's fullest and don't sweat the small stuff because their are no promises that we will be around tomorrow! If their is anything to be learned from this tragedy it is truly that! I believe it is the best way to honor your fellow Hokies!! I never went to college, but on that day we were all Hokies! May God comfort your memories of that day and may you find comfort in Him!

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  26. fudgeahmahjillieThursday, 19 April, 2012

    Hey Kirsten,

    I remember that day rather vividly too. I was at VCU when we heard about the shootings. Our professors were gracious enough to give us the day off so we could reach out to those we knew at VT. I contacted everyone I knew there, mostly through Facebook, even you!

    I was working on our college newspaper, and our editor wanted us to go out to VT. I volunteered, but only the Senior staff got to go. I was sad to be left behind, because a lot of good friends I knew from High School were there. On our campus, they were running a lot of safety drills for the rest of the week. We heard sirens at least once a day. A lot of students around campus were also wearing orange and red (even VT shirts if they had them).

    I even remember yelling at these girls on my dorm room floor for laughing and playing in the halls the night of the shootings. I recall saying, "people we know died today at Virginia Tech and you can't have the decency to shut the hell up. Some of us are still mourning." Luckily, they did shut up and went into their rooms. I'm not usually that forceful, but I thought it was very disrespectful.

    My Junior year I actually became roommates with Alexis Bozzo when she came to VCU for her Masters. She was dating Jeremy Herbstritt, one of the victims. She gave me a full account of her story of the shootings. I was kind of happy that Greg and I didn't go to VT, even though we both got in. Who knows where we might have been, and it would have been heart wrenching to lose him.

    I am really glad that you and everyone we knew from Park View made it out alive. It shouldn't have ever happened in the first place, but it was good to not see any faces I knew. On a different note, you have a great blog going, and I've enjoyed reading it.

    Until next time!
    Laura Belcher

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  27. No words are adequate to what happened that day but your telling of the events honors the memories of those who were lost.

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  28. Thank you for this post. I never heared about this incident, but I live rather far. The way you writing helped me understand the size of your grief, your lost. We should appreciate the life we have, be thoughtful with people we meet. Your post made me think more about my life and I want to belive made me better.
    Aljonushka from faraway Belarus

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  29. I'm a 52 yr. old grandmother who is so moved by your eloquent post on the tragedy at Virginia Tech. I grew up in Princeton WV only a short distance from Blacksburg. My sister lives in Christiansburg and I came very very close to attending Tech back in 1971 if not for a best friend who begged me to go to Marshall University. I did and that is where I met and married my college sweetheart! I love your sweet love story born from tragedy! Roger and I have been married for 39 years and if not for the 1970 plane crash that killed 75 football players, coaches, and boosters, we would not have met. You see, Roger was recruited to play football at Marshall from a small community here in Alabama. if you've seen the movie WE ARE MARSHALL then you know the story. If not, please watch and see the tragedy that changed my life forever. I was a senior in High School when the crash happened but its effects touched everyone in the State. As a result, my future husband became a member of the Young Thundering Herd, and one of the first 4 yr. Letterman in the Nation due to the changes mandated by the NCAA to allow Marshall freshmen to play varsity football. Before 1971, freshmen were not allowed to play Varsity football until their sophomre year. Marshall didn't have enough sophomores to field a team.
    Anyhoo, your story brought a lot of memories of that horrible day as well as memories of the Marshall tragedy. Funny how out of adversity, good things can still emerge, flourish, and alter our futures forever. Thank you for posting and I hope to follow your DIY projects as you make a life with Sean, your college sweetheart! Visit my blog and see my college sweetheart! Trust me, he had lots of hair and muscles back in 1971 and I had lots less pounds! Ha!!
    Blessings
    Gmama Jane
    http://grandmamasstories.blogspot.com

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  31. As a current sophomore at Virginia Tech, I found that this post was beautifully written. I had never heard the story from someone who was there when it happened, only from different media sources giving an outsiders perspective. Thank you for sharing your story, and may God bless our 32 hokies.

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  32. As a future hokie student (class of 2018) I find this beautifully written .I never really understood the reality of this incident when it happened and now, as a accepted hokie I feel a pain in my heart even now. I'm proud to be a hokie and I will honor them all while I am one. Hokeis for life. And I am grateful to have read your story. Thank you for having the courage to share this.
    -a future hokie

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  33. What a beautifully written story about a day that we will all remember. You are in my thoughts and prayers tonight as you remember. As a student who was in the building during a school shooting (Chardon High School. Chardon, Ohio), I can faintly empathize with you. I am honored to be a Hokie with the Class of 2018. We are all Hokies.

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  34. I shared this post on Facebook, as many people are, and just wanted to thank you personally for writing it. I went to grade school with a woman that was injured in the shooting but have never really known how to deal with my emotions around this time of year. I come from a HUGE Hokie family so VT has always been close to my heart. Now that I am in college the thought of something like this happening is almost unreal. Reading such a detailed and personal account helped me understand the thoughts and feelings I've been struggling with for years. I fought back tears while reading but it is so perfect, thank you so much again for sharing.
    -Pippa

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  35. Thanks for sharing your story. I have similar memories of that day. I lost some close friends that day, and was blown away by the stories of those I didn't have the chance to know. The aftermath of that day resulted in sorrow that still continues, but also brought out the best in us and brought our close knit, kind community even further together. I am to this day thankful knowing that spirit of community is alive in Blacksburg, and am thankful for some close calls (one friend was supposed to be in Norris that day but overslept. I'm so glad he did.).

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  36. It was hard to read and relive that day, but it was important to me. I've wondered for a long time if I was nieve not to have realized that I hadn't heard construction noises- if I should have known what that sound really was. Thank you for helping me to never forget one of the most important days of my life.

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  37. It was hard to read and relive that day, but it was important to me. I've wondered for a long time if I was nieve not to have realized that I hadn't heard construction noises- if I should have known what that sound really was. Thank you for helping me to never forget one of the most important days of my life.

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  38. Thank you for telling your story. I spoke with Max right before she walked into that building. I didn't even smile because I was feeling crappy about the weather and the lack of sleep. She on the other hand was absolutely cheerful and happy to go to class.

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  39. This is a wonderful post. Although I knew none of the victims, I remember them and I remember that day. Thank you for sharing this.

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  40. What a touching story of a horribe day and event. You told a story that transferred your feelings to the reader.

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  41. Hi Kirsten,

    My son shared a link to this post today and I came over to read it. Thank you for sharing your story!

    I honestly don't remember a lot from that day, but I do remember going out to buy my kids Tech shirts to wear to their middle school the following day and not being able to find anything. We ended up buying maroon shirts in the Men's department and that's what they wore.
    Fast forward to today... My son is a sophomore in the Corps of Cadets at Tech and he had the honor today to guard Matthew LaPorte's memorial. I was at Tech over the weekend with my parents (first visit for them since they live overseas) and we went to show them the memorial. My son told us stories about some of the 32 and I could barely keep the tears at bay.

    I am glad that something so good came out of that day and you married Evan!

    Carmen

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