April 25, 2007 News & Features » Cover Story


"This is our place." 

Students reflect on the Virginia Tech tragedy.

click to enlarge cover042507.jpg

In the Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech's student newspaper, columnist Devin Stone wrote, "Waking up to the sounds of police sirens and ambulances was an alarm with no snooze button."

The noise from Blacksburg only seemed to intensify last week, blaring at us from all sides even as the campus was silent.

A crush of satellite trucks, cameras and reporters from around the world.  Producers squatted in the grass under small white tents.  Near Norris Hall,where most of the killing took place, cars driving by in a slow,  steady stream.  Then the shocking, ghastly video, playing again and again. ...

Sometimes it was too loud to hear the people who were closest of all, the college students.  Whispering encouragement in each other's ears.  Relaying messages through the Internet.  Holding vigils across the country.

We decided to turn down the alarm, to hear what some of them had to say.

Read "The Swarm" by Pat Kane; Virginia Commonwealth University

Read "Times of our lives" by Megan Cummings; University of Richmond

Simon Chang
Virginia Tech graduate '06
Staff member, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship

Other than the first day of the tragedy,  all I've been feeling from this campus is hope, and that the campus will prevail as one community.  More life than death.

I think I speak for a lot of the Asian-American students here, especially Korean-Americans.  There was a lot of condemnation, especially when we found out the shooter was of Korean ethnicity.  A lot of condemnation.  But the community here really reached out to the Korean-American student body, especially the Christ-believing community, and to our fellowship, because our fellowship is predominantly Asian-American.

Maura Sinnenberg
Virginia Tech student from Richmond
Theatre/English Majors

We're all so fortunate that in times of great distress, people can come together.  People can take care of themselves.  People can save the lives of others.  I think it's more like a story of love than a story of hate.

You have this one guy, I mean, he was sick.  He had something wrong with him.  And not only was he not seeking help, it's like, people were telling him, you need help, and he was just so far gone that he didn't realize it.

He's a victim too — and he's a victim of himself.  And I think we shouldn't neglect that.  Because to vilify him makes him inhuman, and he was a human being just like the rest of us.  And we have to remember that.

Whitley Johnson
Virginia Tech student from Petersburg
Communication/Human Development Majors

We graduate in 2010, so we named ourselves "The Class of Dimes." Erin Peterson was in our class and she passed away yesterday.

Virginia Tech is a safe place.  We have escort services, a student-run organization called Safe Ride that provides late-night services for people that need transportation if you need to get around campus.  The VTPD itself — they're everywhere at all times.  It's real safe here.

I've been to the dorms.  It feels kinda weird — like the halls are empty.  Like, West [Ambler Johnston] especially, we're a bunch of noisy girls.  We're in each other's rooms, lively, all of that.  It's very silent.

Talmadge Flinchum
Bridgewater College student from Blacksburg
Business Major

I'm first a Blacksburgian, born and raised.  … It's still so surreal, a lot of it.  I still just don't want to believe it, even though it really happened.  It's just the fact that, you know, this is my own little slice of perfect.  And now it's not, because of this.

It's just hard to believe that someone you went to high school with, that someone you hung out with all the time, you enjoyed their company, and, you know, something like this happens and they're gone.  It's still unbelievable.  I know it's going to hit me next week what happened.

I was at Bridgewater until about 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon.  I immediately called my mom right away and said I'm coming home to Blacksburg.  My friend [Austin Cloyd] passed away.  I'll be there in two hours.  And I packed up and drove on home.

There's a prayer meeting tonight at 7 o'clock that I'm going to in her honor at the Baptist church across the street.  And we'll definitely just be in full force.  We've got people coming from our senior class … from all across Virginia, North Carolina — anywhere they can come from where they can get away from class and [are] able to come in her memory, they're coming.

Value everything you have.  Don't just let it go by the wayside.  … Time heals everything.  And it's just one of those things that time is going to have to heal this in our hearts.  We are the Hokies.  We will be back.

Allison Sullivan, right, a Virginia Tech geography major from Blacksburg, with her father, Jay Sullivan. Also with her last week was her mother, Debbie, and brothers Peter, 11, and twins Luke and Corey, 9.

"We've just been trying to stick together as a family. We will move on.  We will heal."

Shivakumara "Swamy" Siddarappa
Virginia Tech student from India
Veterinary Microbiology

You can come to Blacksburg taking many roads.  What you see first thing is, it's a special place.  I came to Tech five years ago.  I came all the way from India, a long way from here.  And I had seen the pictures of this drill field, where you're standing right now, five years ago, back home.  And I dreamed this is going to be … a very special place.  And that feeling has come true.

I just feel that this is just an incident that shouldn't have happened, and we have all been very deeply affected and are very sorry that it has happened.  But I can tell you that this is very isolated.  Virginia Tech is not what has happened.  …

I've stood here in this very drill field for long times and just reflected on myself and my being here.  And I realize my goal that I came here for studying — and the very fact that I'm standing here, and I'm successful, that I've finished my Ph.D., speaks a lot about Tech.  And if I were to do it all over again, I would come here and do it.  There's no doubting that.

One of the things in life is, when you go away from home, you go to another city,  you are always at risk.  You don't know whether you are going to come back or not.  But when I leave my apartment to come to campus, I'm always sure I'm going back.  It's a home.  It's my second home.  And my family has never had to worry about me because they always knew I was in a safe place.

My sister is in Bangalore, [India], and it was about 10 o'clock in Bangalore, night, and it was around 12 o'clock here, local time.  And two hours after this incident happened, the news was broadcast in a local language in southern India.  And my sister, who watched it after dinner, she called me immediately because she was worried.  She was very concerned, and she was shaking, and she said: "I'm gasping for breath, are you OK? I just saw it on the news."

And I said, "I'm OK, but nobody here knows what happened.  We are just trying to understand, Can this happen at Tech? Can this happen here? Because this is our place."

I'm getting ready to leave Tech.  And I feel like, Oh, God, I was there.  And I was part of all that.  For the rest of my life I will always feel, I will never forget, what happened.  … What a difference it made to my life, and what a difference it made to other people's life.  Small kids came here to study.  It could have been me. S

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