I apologize for the break from our usual music, movie, and television stories, but I don’t feel much like writing about those things today. Both Aaron and I have ties to Virginia Tech (I’m a member of the class of 99 and Aaron got his Masters there). I lived in West AJ, the dorm where the first shooting occurred and two students were killed, my freshman year. As such the shootings have hit very close to home for me.
Blacksburg, Virginia is an quiet college town. When I was in school we used to joke that you can’t buy underwear in Blacksburg; you have to go to Christiansburg, a neighboring town a few miles away. Big news simply does not happen in Blacksburg.
This horrific incident has left many more questions than answers. Who was the gunman and what was his motive? For that matter, was it the same gunman in both shootings? It seems likely, but police haven’t confirmed it yet. How much planning went into this? The gunman at Norris Hall killed 30 people, and wounded many more. How much ammunition did he have? Police have reported that the doors of Norris Hall were chained shut from the inside and that the gunman was wearing a bulletproof vest. What does that mean as far as planning? If it was one gunman, where was he for the two hours between shootings. Were the decisions of the campus police and school administrators correct given the information they had?
When a tragedy such as this happens it’s natural for people to react in many different ways. Some become empathetic for the victims and their families. Some become angry at the people who carry out such acts. And some people see such situations as vehicles for change.
You can’t stop crazy people from doing crazy things. At this point it appears today’s shootings were the actions of one deranged individual. An isolated incident, not a pattern. This incident does not indicate a need for more security. It does not show that video games, music, or movies are adding violence to our culture. It does not indicate the need for stricter gun control. Or less gun control. It simply shows the capacity of people for evil. No amount of security guards, metal detectors, surveillance cameras, or other Orwellian measures will prevent all such incidents from happening.
I applaud Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum for his steadfast insistence on not releasing any information until it has been thoroughly validated. While I understand that individual reporters have a responsibility to ask him for information he cannot confirm, I am disappointed at the media culture that confers that responsibility. Modern media coverage of “big stories” involves an immediate scramble for any scrap of information, reliable or not. Good journalism practice takes a back seat to being the first to report information, or, less cynically, to give an information-hungry public all the answers immediately. Unfortunately the nature of incidents like these is that there is little reliable information available at the outset, and the media’s zeal for reporting anything they think may be credible leads to more confusion as people are left to sort out the fact from the fiction. I, for one, would rather information be slow and credible than fast and possibly incorrect.
My deepest condolences go out to the victims and their families. Also my thoughts go out to fellow Hokies everywhere. This is a difficult time for us all. Let’s hope that a return to normalcy can come swiftly both on the campus and around the nation.
Image via Flickr