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April 16, 2007

A campus tragedy "of monumental proportions"

There is a terribly sad and scary story from the campus of Virginia Tech today.  Here is CNN's latest coverage and the AP's latest piece.  Some of the disturbing details:

A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom at Virginia Tech on Monday, killing 21 people in the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history.  The gunman was killed, but it was unclear if he was shot by police or took his own life.

"Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions," said Virginia Tech president Charles Steger. "The university is shocked and indeed horrified."

The university reported shootings at opposite sides of the 2,600-acre campus, beginning at about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a co-ed residence hall that houses 895 people, and continuing about two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building.  Some but not all the dead were students.  One student was killed in a dorm and the others were killed in the classroom, Virginia Tech Police Chief W.R. Flinchum.

The name of the gunman was not released. It was not known if he was a student.

Because I have spent most of my adult life on college campuses, this crime story impacts me emotionally more than most.  My heart and thoughts go out to all the victims and everyone impacted by this tragic crime.

I mention this (still developing) story in part because these kinds of horrific, historic crimes have a way of impacting many criminal justice and sentencing issues.  Whether the debate is gun control, campus security, mental illness or the death penalty, today's VT shooting will likely impact, both consciously and unconsciously, many people's perspectives.

UPDATE:  The latest version of the AP story now has this telling sound-bite coming from the White House:

A White House spokesman said President Bush was horrified by the rampage and offered his prayers to the victims and the people of Virginia.  "The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

MORE:  Sadly, the death toll keeps rising; the latest AP update now reports 32 dead along with the gunman.  And the emerging details from what folks are calling the "College Columbine" ensure that this tragic event will be making headlines for a long time.

ON THE RIPPLES:  As I expect once the number of deaths reached double digits, the Senate has postponed the AG Gonzales hearing planned for Tuesday in response to this tragedy.

April 16, 2007 at 01:18 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Overwhelming, and everything else seems so insignificant in comparison. Shocking tragedy.

Posted by: George | Apr 16, 2007 3:25:51 PM

Just horrible. Puts in perspective how difficult it must be to live in Iraq when these sorts of tragedies are a daily occurrence.

Posted by: Elson | Apr 16, 2007 4:07:00 PM

A remarkably tone-deaf response to a tone-deaf question about gun control. One would think that the president's press secretary would be able to avoid such statements in the wake of truly awful events like these. At the risk of sounding trite, murder is such an awful thing . . . . it just makes me sick. It's really sad.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 16, 2007 4:37:00 PM

This is terrible. (Words, truly, fail to express the evil of this act.) Hopefully we use this event to reflect on the causes of fear, hate, and violence. Perhaps then the deaths of the victims will not have been for nothing.

Hopefully the survivors and the families of the victims have the support they will need to deal with this tragedy.

Posted by: rothmatisseko | Apr 16, 2007 7:32:11 PM

After having calmed enough to think and after watching the news, it is the news. What is more pessimistic than the news? The news blames everyone and everything in sight, from rap, video games and movies to an overall decadent society, and yet these terrorist acts depend on publicity as a necessary and sufficient condition for the terror. Don't expect the media to take any responsibility though. It's all everyone else's fault.

Posted by: George | Apr 17, 2007 12:30:38 AM

George, the media didn't shoot anybody, a probably mentally disturbed student did. The guy killed himself at the end - I really doubt his goals in any way depended on "publicity."

I agree with federalist about the Prez's tone deaf response; it was weird and inappropriate to treat this defensively as though reality had attacked his position on guns - it disrespects those whose lives were impacted to politicize that macabre moment. At the same time, I can't help wish some law abiding types at VT had been armed and in a position to stop this fellow. Given the body count it sounds like he just mowed down defenseless people.

I'm not saying arming others on campus would have stopped him. I'm sure millions in Texas like me thought immediately of Charles Whitman's killing spree from the UT Tower, and nobody with a concealed carry permit was going to stop a sharphooter with a long rifle up there. But when I think about the horror of being gunned down by this guy at VT and having no way to respond, I'd at least rather go down fighting.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 17, 2007 2:50:40 PM

Didn't lots of bystanders in Austin fire back at Charles Witman?

In any event, one wonders what would happen if 7-10 disciplined terrorists decided to take over a campus armed not with 9mm handguns, but assault rifles.

This massacre was awful. What a twisted piece of envious evil this murderer was.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 17, 2007 3:15:08 PM

Grits,

With all due respect, I never said or implied the media shot anyone except with cameras, but if you think they aren't profiting large off of this with their speculations and "if it bleeds, it leads" ratings race then you don't follow morbid story after morbid story. No one on the airwaves is more pessimistic and the news overall paints a very dark picture of American culture. Some might respond with terrorism while others might say everyone needs guns because life is so ugly and dangerous. Security companies, the police state and the news media are the only winners.

Posted by: George | Apr 17, 2007 6:25:02 PM

Yeah, I think bystanders and cops both shot at Whitman, once they figured out where the bullets were coming from, which wasn't immediately. But the UT Tower is like a fortress at the top, and they couldn't get a clear shot until a Very Brave Cop ran up a narrow stairwell in a very exposed fashion to take him out.

I think the kid at VT, though, was on the ground at closer quarters using handguns. Every circumstance is different and I'm not second guessing anybody. Such events just set you thinking - this guy killed more than TWICE as many people as Whitman!

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 17, 2007 6:34:15 PM

George, I think we were writing at the same time. I don't disiagree the "if it bleeds it leads" news culture worthy of criticism. I only suspect that in this case issues of mental instability or illness in the individual are much more important contributing factors. Just guessing ... best,

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 17, 2007 6:45:57 PM

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Posted by: DFDF | Jul 29, 2007 1:16:53 AM

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