Not again. That was the thought going through minds all across the Commonwealth on Thursday morning when news broke that the Virginia Tech campus was on lockdown because of a suspected man with a gun.
And when the dust settled and campus officials spoke to the media, we did not have a repeat of that fateful day in April of 2007.
According to WDBJ7:
It all started around 9 a.m. when three campers attending summer camp reported seeing a white man holding what they believed was a gun in the vicinity of Deitrick dining hall or New Residence Hall East. The three teenage girls described the man as a white male, six feet tall, light brown hair, wearing a blue and white striped shirt, gray shorts and brown sandals. The girls reported the man did not have facial hair or glasses. Early Thursday police released a composite sketch based on the description.
After several hours of searching no sign of the individual was found and the campus alert was lifted. Local law enforcement remains on campus Thursday evening in marked and unmarked vehicles.
Were the girls mistaken in their report? Police certainly felt it was credible enough to take seriously. We may never know if they were mistaken or if the campus alert scared off another crazed gunman.
When the shootings took place in 2007, family and friends clung to the internet and the news outlets for any shred of information. The first reports of casualties came in, and sickeningly with each update the numbers increased. I remember watching the agony of our office intern as well as my high school aged son trying to reach their friends. In the end 32 students and faculty were dead in one of the most horrific shooting attacks in our nation’s history.
Virginia Tech received much criticism for their response in that crisis. While you can never adequately prepare for such an event, questions remained as to whether the university alert system was adequate and whether officials acted in a timely manner. Families wanted to sue. The U.S. Department of Education levied a fine against Virginia Tech, without even visiting the campus in their supposed “investigation.”
So, this time, the text messages went out. The sirens sounded. The buildings were shut down. Classes were cancelled for the remainder of the day.
From inside, one employee at Virginia Tech told Facebook friends that he and his coworkers were locked inside their offices for four hours, receiving text message updates every thirty minutes.
After the 2007 event, Second Amendment activists stated that had one of the students or professors been armed, they may have been able to stop the shooter. That’s pure speculation but activists point to the 2002 shooting at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy. In that case, the gunman there killed three people, but was then stopped by two students who were able to obtain their personal firearms.
The gun rights argument is for another thread. But did Virginia Tech overreact? Once could ask if this is what an overly litigious, anti-gun culture looks like in real life.
Given the history and the criticism, campus officials and local law enforcement had no choice but to take the measures they did on Thursday. They’d been criticized for failing before. They couldn’t let that happen again.
Thankfully, it didn’t.
Cross posted at The Write Side of My Brain.