This Saturday marks the fourth anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech, one of the most severe tragedies of recent memory, which ended in the violent deaths of 32 innocent students and professors before the gunman turned the gun on himself.
Logan Smith, a sophomore in Stegenga Hall, remembers April 16, 2007, “like it was yesterday.” A recent transfer to Virginia at the time, Smith was wrapping up her freshman year of high school.
“It happened in the morning,” she recounts. “We didn’t do anything that day. They told us we were free to leave if we had to. There were people in the office calling home. When I got home I remember just watching the news for days. I remember seeing bodies on TV, people crying. It was all really graphic. I was a little bit surprised by all they showed; it was really tough.”
Smith continues, “Everyone from my high school in Roanoke goes to Virginia Tech. Everyone knew someone there. Virginia Tech has a big campus, but it’s picture perfect, a place you would have never thought this would happen. It was the school to be at.”
Erin Doyle, now a senior nursing student, was a prospective student at the time of the shootings.
“I was visiting (Northwestern’s) campus that day. The girl I was staying with took me to breakfast, and we were sitting with a group of people I didn’t know. I was watching the TV; I couldn’t believe what was happening. They were talking, and I said something like, ‘Guys, do you know what’s going on?’ It was happening right there on the Caf TV.”
The tragedy hits home in other ways as English professor Weston Cutter, then an MFA graduate student and teaching assistant at Virginia Tech, was minutes away from the grisly unfoldings of that Monday morning.
“I had canceled a class teaching freshman English that Friday before. I wanted to conference with students on their first draft that week. I remember waking up at 9, 9:30. All these sirens kept coming by,” he recounts. “That was the beginning and the end of the day.”
Cutter describes feeling “incredibly raw” as the reality of the tragedy set in: “We were all trying to get a hold of our parents who couldn’t get a hold of us. My sister called crying. It’s really something when your kid sister calls in tears; it’s a hard thing.”
As classes resumed the next week, the whole campus felt “kind of like being at a rock concert that ends abruptly. Everyone was waiting for the encore that never came. Everyone was walking around like we had really bad sunburns. We were really scared.”
The memories hit harder now as Cutter reflects on the progression he’s made from student to graduate student to
“As a student, I think I would have just figured it was one of those random anomalies in the universe. You guys have no idea how glorious and safe and healthy and young you are. I think the gravity of what happened will increase the longer I am a professor. There was a 77-year-old professor, a Romanian immigrant and Holocaust survivor who barricaded the doors so his students could jump out the windows. Then I thought, ‘I get it.’ But I didn’t. I think understand it more as years pass.”
And as the years do pass, Smith and Cutter both stress the importance of remembrance.
“The motto was ‘VT: Never Forget,’” said Smith. “It was important then to remember and now to never forget.”
“After the shooting was the first time I understood on an emotionally intuitive level the value of people coming together,” Cutter comments. “It sounds so cheesy, but it’s true. The tears are actually doing something here; we need to get this out. We need to remember.”