In Memory of those Lost in the Virginia Tech Shooting

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

In Memory of those Lost in the Virginia Tech Shooting

While many college students around the country most likely spent this past Monday bogged down prepping for final exams and feverishly preparing for pending job interviews, those students at Virginia Tech had a far more daunting and emotional task to complete – get through the day of classes as for the first time in five years, the university held classes on the anniversary of what quickly became the country’s deadliest mass shooting.

The Virginia Tech massacre, a school shooting that took place on April 16, 2007 on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., was perhaps one of the most harrowing and disturbing events that has taken place in recent years. That day, Seung-Hui Cho, a senior English major at Virginia Tech, fired on students and faculty all over campus, killing 32 and wounding 25 in two separate attacks approximately two hours apart, before ultimately committing suicide. Cho, who prior to this shooting had been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder, was responsible for the second-deadliest act of mass murder at a school campus, behind the Bath School bombing of 1927, according to reports.

As the fifth anniversary of the massacre came yesterday, school officials decided to hold classes for the first time on that day to honor the memories of those lost that day.  For some, however, the day greatly tugged at heartstrings.

“It was really hard, but we got through it," freshman Jessie McNamara, who wasn't on campus at the time but lost two older high school friends in the shooting, said, fighting back tears according to a recent article.

At midnight, Virginia Tech marked the five-year anniversary with the lighting of a ceremonial candle that remained lit for 24 hours. Members of the university's Corps of Cadets stood guard at the candle for 32 minutes to honor the 32 who were killed.  Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was also scheduled to speak at a commemoration and candlelight vigil on Monday night.

Although the massacre at Virginia Tech brought little more than heartache, tragedy and confusion that day, it also served to shed light on the importance of looking for warning signs, or any possible clues, that travesties such as these are about to occur.

With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc., there are countless opportunities for individuals to gain insight into the thought processes of their peers – from the silly musings to the wise sentiments to the confusing, even worrisome posts.

Almost two years ago, for example, we saw Tyler Clementi announce to his social networking world via Facebook that he was heading to the George Washington bridge to take his own life, after allegedly being the victim of cyberbullying at the hands of Dharun Ravi, his college roommate. Evidence later showed that Ravi had frequented Twitter a few times before Tyler’s death to lament about Tyler’s dalliances with another man, something which could have tipped others off to the fact that perhaps Tyler might be upset.

Along those lines, recently Facebook announced that if you see one of your friends or another user post a suicidal comment or status update on his/her Facebook page, you can click a “report” button next to the posting and then answer a series of questions about whether the post was violent, harassing, hate speech or harmful behavior. In the event that harmful behavior is clicked, Facebook’s user safety team reviews the post, determines whether it is legitimate, and sends an email to the user with a phone number to a hotline and a link to start a confidential chat session.

“One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible,” said Fred Wolens, Facebook’s public policy manager, said in a recent article.

Whether it’s someone taking to the Web to discuss how miserable he/she is or someone choosing to disparage others or post concerning comments about others’ safety, it is our duty as consumers of the social stratosphere to pay attention to these messages and do something. Even if it’s just telling someone else, do not be a bystander when abnormal social networking activity surfaces.

While there is no evidence that suggests that Cho had shared his intentions to commit harm at Virginia Tech beforehand, there could be others who might choose to voice their plans, or convolutedly hint at them.

Your job is simple, students; as you try to balance homework, job interviews and social commitments at school, make sure you are never brushing off what seems to be an off the cusp tweet  or status update. Pay attention to these messages and read between the lines. Some tragedies certainly don’t come with warning signs, but anything you can do to make your school life safer is a step in the right direction.



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