April 17, 2007

Because I'm not thinking about much else today

I've gotten several messages and emails over the past 24 hours, inquiring about how I'm doing. So thanks to everyone for your thoughts, I certainly appreciate it. It feels like a strange question, though, to be honest. I mean, I haven't been to campus since the '99 graduation, and like I said before, I don't still have any contacts down there. So my natural reaction has been, "Well of course I'm fine, I'm not there." But admittedly, the whole thing has been weighing on me a little heavier than I would have expected. It's really, really hard not to keep checking on the updates, despite the fact that I can't say for sure that I want to hear more about it.

Now, of course, we've gone from people talking about what happened to people weighing in with opinions about the how's and why's, and that's the part that I can't stand. Leave the police and university officials alone. They did the best they could with what they had, and no amount of second-guessing is going to be helpful to the families and students who just lost their children, siblings, and friends. The timing of the email isn't the point. The point is that, when police responded to the first shooting, they contacted the resident advisors within that building, had them go and check on their residents, and tried to contain the situation there. Who among you would have guessed that more was coming, and how would you have known? Even if you had, how would you have predicted that someone would wander all the way across campus, passing any number of buildings with people (and sadly, potential targets) in them in the process, to get to one particular class building? How do you cover a campus that large effectively in any case? It's not like Blacksburg has an especially large police force in the first place.

How do you get the word out? Of the 25,000+ students at Va Tech, only about 8,000 actually live on campus. That means that more than two thirds of your audience is beyond the reaches of any conventional alert system short of air-raid sirens, no matter what you do. That's just the reality. You do what you can with what you have. They had bullhorns and police cars and email and phone calls. They interpreted the situation a certain way, and it turns out they were wrong. It happens, and it's not a function of incompetence, necessarily, nor negligence; it's just what happened. It really burns me up to see people so eager to jump on the folks who were on the scene and trying to help, passing judgment from in many cases hundreds of miles away.

If you want evidence of how drastically your understanding of a situation can change from what you first thought, just go back and look at the reports that came out of this tragedy throughout the day yesterday. It's simply unfair to suggest that anyone, police or civilian, could or should have known more than they did. All of that energy would be much better spent focused on the people affected by the day's events.

Okay, I'm done. Sorry about that; got off on a bit of a rant there. I just think it's too easy to point fingers, as if that's somehow going to make things better. It won't, and it doesn't help.

On the upside, it's been hearwarming to read some of the stories, from journalists and amateurs alike, in the aftermath of all of this. A small sample: Brunch Bird has a good one, as does Stewart Mandel on CNNSi, and Hokie alum Hoda Kotb, a Dateline correspondent.
I could probably ramble on for hours about this whole thing, but I won't. I hope that the students and their families and friends are all right, or at least that they will be. I'm optimistic; one thing you figure out spending a few years at Tech is that the Hokie Nation is a pretty strong bunch. They'll pull through. I just wish they didn't have to.


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