So now it is Tuesday, and the aftermath of yesterday's tragedy continues to unfold.
The number of dead is staggering - 33 at last report - and the reality of it continues to feel very, very unreal.
The blaming has begun, and it is making those of us who were here to watch the pain unfold very unhappy. Yes, the first shooting started at 7:15, but local information suggests that the local police immediately collared the obvious suspect (the dead girl's boyfriend), and decided that - with him in custody - others were safe. It was a bad call, in retrospect, but it was made with the best information available at the time, and all this blaming isn't helping anyone move towards healthier responses.
And, even if they had made a different decision about whether to continue classes, the killer had decided to maim and shoot people. He was armed with multiple weapons and many clips of ammunition. Canceling classes would have made Norris Hall less of a target, but he would have found other concentrations of people to hurt. We are a residential school, and when classes are cancelled the thousands of students who live on campus mill around the dining halls, residences, bookstore, library, and other public buildings.
The 4:30 pm press briefing was ugly. I listened to a bit of it live, then flipped over to the BBC radio station to be reminded that the rest of the world continues to turn. Of course during their "World News Roundup," we were the top story. The line "worst shooting in American history" brought me to tears. And then, I came home and surfed to the Anchorage Daily News online for distraction, and saw we were their top story as well...
Classes are cancelled today, and an email exchange with my boss clarified that while she believes I am essential personnel, the university does not. There is a "convocation" at two pm, which I may or may not attend. Wedging the whole community into the coliseum does not quite feel safe, and I wonder what it is they think will help when the wounds are so fresh.
The names of the dead have not yet been released by the university, but Fox News is reporting 14 of them. The RA killed in the first attack appears to have been a psychology major, which means I probably know him. There are a few grad students and some faculty on the list as well, which makes it feel even closer to home. I cant imagine having my class stormed by a gun-wielding maniac - that is not something they prepare you for in Pedagogy 101. I like to think I would act in a sensible, protective fashion, but you never know until it actually occurs.
I slept from about 8-9 pm, 12 - 4 am, and 4:30- 8:30 am, with two shots of Nyquil (at 8 and 4). Between 8 and 9 pm, I got three phone calls from my yoga teacher in Fairbanks, my grandmother, and Anna from my writing group. At 8:30 this morning, I heard from a friend who spent yesterday traveling, but wanted to make sure I was okay. My first cousin once removed in Oneonta just called, to make sure I survived. It is emotionally exhausting to keep having that conversation - "Yes, I am at Virginia Tech. I'm safe - I was home sick when it started. I dont know much, but it hurts to be part of this community today." - but it helps to know that people care about me and all the others affected by this tragedy.
Falling asleep last night I found myself praying for strength and generosity for all of us, as we help each other move forward. The loss of life was horrifying, and each of those killed had relationships, futures, and lives which will have to be mourned. It feels like such a waste, and my roommate and I were united in our frustration last night that this killer couldn't find a better way to deal with whatever demons plagued him. There has been some talk in the blogosphere about whether he was mentally ill, and I think we all want to believe that was true. Not necessarily true in the official, DSM-IV criteria sense, but because it allows us to label his actions as "other," outside our understanding of humanity. As we learn more, hopefully things will begin to form a logical narrative, but I doubt it will ever make "sense" - after all, this was by definition "sense-less" violence.
While typing this I received another email from the university... classes are cancelled all week, administrative offices will re-open on Wednesday, and Norris Hall is closed for the rest of the semester. Our finals week begins on Friday May 4, which means there will be less than two weeks of classes left before exams. How are we going to negotiate the stressful end of semester requirements, with a campus community rendered fragile by tragedy? What a world.