Students mourn Virginia Tech victims
A media package mailed to NBC News may shed light on what the person who killed 32 people and himself Monday in two shooting incidents on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University was doing in the time between the incidents. The new information came to light as AU, along with the rest of the nation, continued to mourn what has been called the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Cho Seung-Hui, a senior majoring in English at Virginia Tech, killed 32 people and himself, injuring at least a dozen more, when he went on a shooting rampage in a residence hall and in a classroom building Monday morning. The first shooting, resulting in two deaths, occurred at 7:15 a.m. and the second, resulting in the majority of deaths and all injuries, at 9:45 a.m.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that Cho mailed a package to NBC News that contained images of him holding various weapons and a video in which he spoke about wanting to get even with rich people.
NBC turned the package over to the authorities yesterday, but planned to show some of the material on last night's broadcast of "NBC Nightly News," according to the AP.
The package had a timestamp, which placed the time of mailing between the times of the two shooting incidents. If authorities can confirm that the timestamp is correct, it would shed light on what Cho was doing during the time between the shootings, the AP reported.
At AU, coping and
As the confirmed death toll rose throughout the day Monday, AU students checked the well-being of their friends at Virginia Tech.
For Russell Freedman, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences who transferred to AU from Virginia Tech, the story hits close to home. While Freedman's friends and girlfriend are not among the dead or injured, the fear and surreal nature of the attack prevail.
"Knowing that my friends are OK is good for me," Freedman said. "I'm always a Hokie at heart, but I know it's more real for them, and it does my heart good to hear they're OK."
Videos and pictures of bodies being carried away were posted online and on TV.
Jeffrey Hanley, AU's Residence Hall Association president and a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, was among those contacting friends while watching the news unfold.
"Personally it was an awkward situation to see the bodies and be calling friends who possibly could have been among them," Hanley said. "You think you're safe on campus and when something like this happens, it's troubling."
AU students reacted quickly to the news. By late Monday afternoon, the religious groups on campus organized a vigil service. At 10:40 p.m., students and faculty gathered in the Kay Spiritual Life Center to remember the lives of the fallen.
"I've never seen anything so powerful in Kay," said Melissa Griffith, a sophomore in CAS.
As a display of interfaith unity, the vigil used the prayer "Office for the Dead," and "Evening Prayer" from the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, interweaving prayers from other faiths. Rabbi Kenneth Cohen and Methodist minister Mark Schaffer each said a benediction for the dead.
"This morning I woke up heartbroken, but now my heart is warmed," said Joe Colarusso, a sophomore in CAS, in his speech at the vigil.
Afterward, students were free to stay as they reflected on the day and prayed. Some students joined the Methodist choir in singing hymns in Kay's main lobby.
"I think that it was beautiful how AU's campus was able to come together like that to remember how the people died," said Veronica Gessner, a sophomore in the School of International Service. "It showed that we have some solidarity at this university with our peers, whatever their religion may be."
Since he lives on Tenley campus, Freedman said he did not hear about the vigil but wished he could have gone. He said he decided not to go to Virginia Tech since he had not lost anyone and he wanted to give space to those who really needed to be there.
Action in the university community
D.C. universities also showed solidarity in support of Virginia Tech. Ashley Mushnick, Student Government president and a senior in SPA, met with student government presidents from other D.C. universities to release a co-written statement supporting the Virginia Tech community.
"I think when you hear about something like this, it affects all students," Mushnick said.
To help AU students cope with the Virginia Tech shootings, the Counseling Center has maintained all of its regular appointment and emergency walk-in counseling services. Dr. Amy Bowers, assistant director for Outreach and Consultation at the Counseling Center, said they also added extra resources online for dealing with sudden loss. On Wednesday, the Counseling Center held a forum co-sponsored with RHA for students to talk about what happened.
On Tuesday morning, Virginia Tech held a convocation for the dead. Daniel Guevara, a freshman at Virginia Tech, said the Cassell Coliseum gym was packed and needed an overflow area.
"It was amazing to see how many people were supporting us and how it's stretched across the nation, even to the point of having President Bush here," Guevara said.
On Tuesday, the school confirmed the death toll as 33 and Cho as the shooter. The Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech's student newspaper, talked to students in Cho's playwriting class. As a workshop class, the students shared their work. Students remembered Cho's play about a son who threw chainsaws and hammers at his stepfather because he hated him.
Students told the paper they ignored Cho's morbid and grotesque plays. Stephanie Derry, a student in his class, told Collegiate Times, "We had to laugh it off because it couldn't ever be real or truthful, I mean, who throws hammers and chainsaws around?"
For some, a wavering sense of campus security
AU's Chief of Public Safety Michael McNair said only awareness can prevent a similar occurrence from happening at AU.
"These people have issues and tell others about them, so students should be vigilant in reporting them to Public Safety," McNair said.
In light of the shootings, students said they felt their sense of security waver. Students criticized the Virginia Tech administration on a Collegiate Times video for failing to close down the school immediately after the first shooting incident, in the dormitory, Monday morning.
Freedman said he is not sure that shutting down Virginia Tech would have deterred the attack because the gunman could have returned on a different day, and it would have just been a new set of people who died.
"My girlfriend has a class in Norris, though not today; she has it on Tuesdays," Freedman said. "It terrifies me to think that she could have just as easily been part of that attack."
While there is concern over others mimicking the shootings, McNair said AU students should not worry too much about it.
"There is a possibility of a copy-cat occurrence, but it's spread out all over the country," McNair said. "There's no reason to believe that we're any more vulnerable than Georgetown or UCLA."
Mushnick is talking with school officials about keeping awareness high on campus for safety. Hanley said there is talk of implementing a text message alert system for an emergency situation. Currently AU relies on the blue light cameras to learn of campus emergencies, according to Hanley.
Eagle Staff Writer Jimm Phillips contributed to this report.