I was rushing around my bedroom.
Fully dressed and otherwise ready for the day, I was rushing around my bedroom at 9:40 a.m., preparing to leave for class that began at 10:10. I rushed every morning, whether I was late or not, but this morning I ran a real risk of not making the bus on time and having to walk into my tiny linguistics class shamefully late.
I paced aimlessly even though I’d been ready to go for a while. At the last moment before I finally raced down the stairs and out the door, I decided to open my laptop and check my email. We had a paper due; maybe she didn’t need us to physically turn it in today.
In the first email I opened, I slowly glossed over the words shooter, police and custody. There had been an incident on campus before 8 a.m., in West AJ where I’d lived freshman year. It was an act of violence and therefore was strangely out of character for our campus. I remember furrowing my brow at the thought, but conceding that the police had taken care of it and assuming the day would continue on as normal.
Normal was something I would not soon know again.
As I closed the email and threw my bag over my shoulder, I answered a phone call from Jessie. She was on the bus on her way to campus, but the bus was stopped without explanation. She had heard sirens. She wondered if I knew anything about what was going on. By the end of the conversation we’d figured out that her bus was turning around, she was coming home and I would wait for her there.
In the meantime, I turned on the news. It was past 9:45 and the news outlets and I didn’t yet know the severity of what was unfolding on campus. I called Mom to let her know I was fine, in case she’d heard something was going on. After getting her voicemail, I called Dad and said, “I have no idea what is going on, but I’m in my apartment and I’m fine.”
I called Rebecca’s apartment and was grateful to hear none of them had ventured to campus yet. I eventually got in touch with my other roommate Jessica who was locked down in an academic building adjacent to Norris Hall. She was safe, but not sure when she’d be able to leave.
Then I sat.
I sat glued to any source of information I could absorb. I flipped between local news and CNN hoping someone would report something of substance.
A gunman on campus. Possibly two.
Police are still looking for the suspect.
I watched the information unfold before me in disbelief. I watched the images of men with guns staking out Norris Hall and of my fellow Hokies running out of nearby buildings with their hands in the air. Injured people being carried out like rag dolls.
I watched the numbers rise.
I was on the phone checking in with Mom when CNN reported there’d been 8 or 9 casualties. That’s when I lost it for the first time, when I really realized something truly awful had happened. I cried hysterically into the phone, having no idea that 8 or 9 would escalate to 32.
After hanging up with Mom, I was sitting on the floor of my room when Jessie came in and knelt down next to me. I rose to my knees and hugged her. For several minutes we sat there, on our knees hugging, pouring tears into each other’s shoulders.
The day would go on much like that. We eventually forced ourselves to sleep and in the days following, events were held on campus, important people made speeches and we learned more about the 32 we’d lost. My family came down to visit and to spend time on campus.
I remember standing by War Memorial Chapel, looking out over the drillfield there were memorials, flowers, hoards of people dressed in orange and maroon, and eager reporters with cameramen in tow. In that moment, the circus-like atmosphere was overwhelming. This was not the Virginia Tech campus I’d grown up loving, the one that has not only been part of my education, but part of my family. This campus and its people were forever changed, and making that realization standing there on the drillfield gripping my mom’s hand I realized I was forever changed.
Today we reflect on what happened to our small snowy campus that Monday four years ago. Not a day has passed in the last four years that I didn’t think about it. I think about the 32 that are gone, those who lived to bear witness to the chaos, the medical responders, the people whose roommates didn’t come home, the families who lost loved ones. When it becomes too much, I replay Nikki Giovanni’s poetic battlecry in my head:
We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly,
We are brave enough to bend to cry,
And we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again…
We are the Hokies
We will prevail
We will prevail
We will prevail
We are Virginia Tech