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We Remember Virginia Tech 4-16-2007

Today marks the 17th year since the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech, where 32 innocent people were gunned down and 17 more were injured on campus.

In memory of this horrific event, we would like to share a story from a volunteer. Content Warning: survivor story of a disturbing event.

Writing about my experience with the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech is really hard for many reasons - I have all the words to say, but also no words at all. I relive what happened almost every day - even when I don’t think through the actual events of that day, I FEEL it in my soul on a daily basis - it’s just there, and it will never go away. It is a part of who I am now, for better or for worse. The reason I’m compelled to put something that was so tragic into words, exposing the pain and experience to others, is because what happened at Tech has become another statistic in our nation. A tragic incident among a sea of other tragedies… and it all needs to stop.On April 16, 2007, I woke up and got ready just like any normal day. It was a Monday. I was sitting at my desk, checking emails and drinking coffee. I had about 30 minutes before I needed to get ready for my 8:30 class. I had the news on my TV under my twin dorm bed. My roommate was up too - she was also getting ready for the day. I saw an email come through that notified us about a shooting in West AJ (an adjacent dorm building), and that campus was shut down for safety precautions and students were not to leave their dorm building and morning classes were cancelled. I remember specifically that we were to stay clear of our windows. Shortly after, we started hearing news reports on TV about the incident in West AJ. It felt like at the very same time, we also started seeing minute by minute updates on the possible whereabouts of the shooter, people of interest, possible motives - it was so much information to take in, and it was scary as hell. Being a freshman, trapped in your dorm building, knowing there was someone roaming the campus with a gun - it was surreal. But little did we know how very bad it was about to get.My roommate and I were glued to the TV, because that was the only source of information on what was going on outside the walls of our dorm. Active shooter on the loose at Virginia Tech. The internet and phone lines were starting to back up because once the news went public, everyone was trying to connect with friends across campus. Emails were being sent to us, but we weren’t getting them.  My roommate and I were silently panicking. It felt crazy - trapped within the four walls of that tiny room, too scared to look out the window or get close to it, not knowing how our world was about to be completely wrecked. I don’t recall how much time had passed, but eventually, we started seeing the number of victims show up on the local news channel we were watching. First it was an alarming number - something like 20 students killed. And it was around this time that we learned it happened in Norris Hall. My roommate quickly realized her best friend, Erin, had a French class in that building, and she knew she had this class that morning. I remember we were both initially optimistic and hopeful that she couldn’t possibly be included in the victim count. But we didn’t know at the time that Cho, the shooter, had actually entered that very same class. I honestly don’t remember what the next few hours looked like. So much worry, anxiety, and confusion - I have blacked it out at this point. The only thing I remember is being in that room for what felt like an eternity.Eventually, later in the afternoon, we heard the shooter had been “arrested” and that campus was no longer in lock down and we were able to come out of our dorms. It was the eeriest feeling walking outside - I can’t even try to describe it. Naturally we ventured to the dining hall right next to our dorm building. I saw friends among the sea of police officers and SWAT members and we all hugged. But we were absolutely stunned and in shock. I remember so specifically that none of us talked. Looking back on this now, as a 36 year old mom, my heart breaks for us. We were 18 years old - we didn’t have our families to comfort us, we didn’t understand the magnitude of what had just happened. We were all from a small, close knit town in Virginia. This kind of stuff never happened. And none of us had even talked to our parents at that point, we still couldn’t get a signal.  I just remember sitting at this table in the dining hall - our eyes wide, darting around the room, none of us eating. Every other person had a police officer next to them, holding huge AK-47s and a German Shepard. This picture is still so vivid in my memory today - the huge gun that was 2 feet from my face. I felt safe but so scared, nervous and on edge at the same time.At this point we didn’t know 31 students had been killed, that Cho had chained the doors of Norris Hall shut, and killed himself after murdering our colleagues and teachers. My roommate (and myself included) were still holding onto hope that her best friend had made it out safe. She had called her repeatedly with no luck, but we chalked it up to the fact that no one was able to get through to anyone, and because of the lock down, we hadn’t had a chance to go to her dorm. Whether it was because we were too scared to venture across campus, or too scared to face the reality that she may have been a victim, we stayed close to our dorm.Later that evening, my roommate and I decided to walk to a restaurant, Sharkey’s, which was right down the street. We just needed to get off campus - it was such a heavy feeling being there. At this point we were aware of all the facts of what had happened that morning - 32 confirmed dead. But we still weren’t sure about Erin. It was during our dinner, in which we really didn’t eat, that we finally heard a phone ring. It was Jackie’s phone. Hearing a phone ring was weird because none of us were able to make or receive calls for hours. The person on the other line was another one of Jackie’s friends. It was in this call that we learned Erin was one of the victims - Cho shot and killed her in French class. Jackie immediately ran to the bathroom and I was absolutely speechless. I wanted to scream, throw up, chuck things across the restaurant. It was a breaking point. I remember being so furious that someone would kill 31 innocent people - MY PEOPLE. My colleagues. My roommate’s very best friend since childhood.I listened to Jackie cry herself to sleep that night. I remember she was trying not to be loud - it was absolutely shattering. This is another vivid memory burned into my brain and heart. I was trying to reconcile the events of the day, while listening to my roommate, just feet away, experience the tragedy in such a personal way.I have felt many things about the tragedy - obviously sadness, loss, remorse - but also a lot of anger and resentment. To this day, I know what happened has had residual effects on me, and my friends who were with me at Tech. We don’t really talk about it. It’s just that thing we know is there, this horrific shared experience, and we all know it has had a lasting effect on us. On the rare occasion that we do talk about it, it’s very high-level and anecdotal. It’s just too painful to relive the actual events of that day (and how things were just so different afterwards).

Cho should have never, ever been able to buy the weaponry he used to kill those innocent students and professors. He had documented psychiatric symptoms and doctors said he was mentally ill. Schools are supposed to be a safe place, where students can thrive and learn. We are failing our children by allowing machine guns and war weapons to get in the hands of everyday civilians who feel they need them to defend their 2nd amendment right. I’m a parent now with two small children… I can’t even bear to think about them experiencing an OUNCE of what we went through at Tech. I think about Sandy Hook and Uvalde and I completely crumble.

The senseless violence, the lives lost, the resulting trauma and grief- it has to end. And it is up to every single one of us as voters to do just that.

-Story from a Virginia Tech survivor

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