Wednesday, April 16, 2008

One Year Later

To be honest, I don't remember a whole lot about April 16, 2007. Other than where I was and a couple of other details, I can't give you much else. It was all a fog. The sensory-overload I experienced as I watched a place that held so many amazing memories for me be the site of so much pain and grief took away the details of that day.

Monday, April 16, 2007, was supposed to be a day of relaxation. I was working for a professional baseball team at the time and that day was an off day between road series. Those are the days you look forward to. The team's gone and there's no game to pay attention to that night. I went to the office to prepare the next day's game notes and make the next day as easy as possible as well.

All that changed shortly after I got to work. First, I got an E-mail from my boss saying two students had been found dead at Virginia Tech. Originally, I didn't think too much of it. The AP story he sent me said the police had detained a suspect. But then the reports of the second attack started to roll in and the death toll started to rise.

I was hitting alt+tab most of the day between my game notes and various news sites on the Internet, getting the latest reports. It became apparent very quickly that this was going to be a bad, bad day.

I got out of there as quickly as I could and turned on the TV when I got to my apartment. There was the school I loved (despite not attending a single class there) on every news station. It wasn't long before I had to get out of there, as well. I went and had dinner with my aunt, who lived in town and graduated from Tech. We sat there in the restaurant, ate and didn't say much. There wasn't much to say.

I spent the next few days wearing orange and maroon to work, watching the news and wondering how something so terrible could happen to a place like Tech. It sickened me to watch the sorrow Blacksburg was going through. I wondered what my feelings would be when I returned and how different the place would be. It turned out not to be that different at all.

My first trip back to Blacksburg was for the Boston College game. I missed out on the emotion of the ECU game. Virginia Tech was scarred on April 16, but it didn't take me long to realize that the place was still the same place I loved. I knew back in April that if something this horrible had to happen, it needed to happen at a place like Tech. The love and support the members of Hokie Nation have for one another is unlike anywhere else I've been. It's why I'm proud I'm a Hokie. Virginia Tech is a family and it grieved as a family. It has healed as a family.

What I'll remember most about April 16 and the days that followed is the media coverage. As someone whose been in the media, you tend to pay close attention to how things are covered and how the media reacts. I took a class in college that was about community journalism. A good part of the course dealt with how a small community reacts under the microscope of the nation.

Basically, it's up to the journalists in that town to tell the story. The national media will come in and get small facts wrong that most people won't notice, but those who are from the area will (like being called Virginia Tech University). But eventually, the national media will leave and it will be up to the community journalists to keep the story alive and cover the aftermath. Soon the nation won't care as much, but those involved always will.

And that's why I tried to get most of my news that week from the Roanoke Times and the Collegiate Times. The CT did by far the best job. Campus rags take a lot of heat for not being "real newspapers." Well, the campus rag pwned everyone else when it came to covering that story.

I felt many emotions that week. There was shock and sorrow, but there was also anger. And most of that anger was directed at the media. The media always needs someone to blame when something like April 16 happens. However, the person who committed the actual act was dead. Therefore, the media was unable to blame only him. That doesn't get viewers. So the media, especially CNN, began to start putting the blame on the campus police and President Steger.

And they did it pretty quickly. Before the bodies were buried, before the shock had even worn off, they started blaming them. It was the most despicable thing I'd ever seen. It made me glad I was in PR and not news.

A friend of mine, who is still in news, sent me and a lot of other people he was in J-School with a message a couple of days later. It said how proud he was to be in news while watching the coverage of April 16. I let him know how outraged myself and a lot of other people who watched the same coverage were at what was happening. He called April 16 a "producer's paradise." I told him there was a special place in hell for the producers at NBC that chose to air the gunman's videos and pictures.

What I was proud of was how the Hokies responded when the news tried to push its agenda on them. I was proud as parents and friends of those who were killed refused to point fingers at the police and the president. I was proud as they refused to let the news media exploit them. I was proud as they represented a great university that was in the midst of its worst tragedy.

April 16 reaffirmed my love of Virginia Tech and the Hokies. As the week unfolded and I saw how Hokie Nation reacted to being thrust into the spotlight, I was reminded of the quote from Apollo 13 when Gene Kranz overhears the NASA official say it was going to be the worst disaster NASA had ever faced.

Kranz responded, "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour."

That's how it was for Hokie Nation.

Update: ESPN story on the tragedy featuring Sean Glennon that aired today:

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