Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

A Nation Mourns

Posted April 17, 2007
Updated April 18, 2007

Monday's shooting at Virginia Tech prompted two reactions in most people- first extreme sadness, then relief that it didn't happen to people we know and love.  It's hard to admit, but I think we all have this moment.  We recognize that this tragedy could happen anywhere, it could happen here, but it didn't.  It happened more than 230 miles away.  This does not make it any less awful, but it does make us exhale when we realize our loved ones are safe.

As a parent the first thing I thought about yesterday was the fact that there are 26,000 students at Virginia Tech.  This in turn means 52,000 parents were frantically dialing cell phones praying their children were not hurt.  It's an unimaginable moment.  It physically makes me sick to think about it.  the thought of getting that call in the middle of an otherwise normal day, that call that your child is dead.  There are no words.

In the hours, days, and months to come we will learn more about the victims.  Chances are they will have some ties to North Carolina and the Triangle.  We've already learned that one professor worked at one point at UNC.  These ties will make the massacre more real to us, and expose us once again to the fact that tragedy is the great unifier in our country.  It  exposes our fears about the frailty of human life and binds us inextricably to one another in our shared grief.  As we watch televison, read about it on the Web, or pick up a newspaper with horrifying images splashed across the front page, we are united in our compassion and concern for the families touched by such unexplainable violence.  Not unlike 9-11, we become keenly aware that shared human suffering allows us to connect with people in a very profound way, empathize with them and ultimately help in some way.

Today I interviewed teacher Lisa Kukla.   On April 24, 2006, she and a student, Chelsea Slegal,  were taken hostage at gunpoint in a classroom at East Chapel Hill High School.  For more than an hour Kukla says the gunman, also a  student, intermittently held a shotgun at her head with his finger on the trigger.   She did the only thing she could think of to do.  She talked to him in the hopes that once he saw her and Slegal as human beings he wouldn't be able to shoot them.  She says she chose every word carefully because she knew the wrong words might ignite him and cause him to pull the trigger.  It worked; he  fired out the window hitting no one, ran, and was eventually arrested. 

Kukla realizes every day that things could have been different.  She also acknowledges that teachers and students at Virginia Tech had no such opportunity to talk the shooter out of killing them.   There was no discussion, just random, senseless violence that has now spread sadness and outrage across our entire country.

Kukla knows how lucky she is.  She thinks about that fact every day when she looks at her 18-month-old son.  But do we know how lucky we are?  Why them?  Why not us?  What if?  Go home tonight, kiss and hug your children, call your mother, tell a friend what she means to you.  We've had one more day on earth...



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  • littlegramma Apr 20, 2007

    Its a shame that they block comments that call people to task for blaming the rest of us for the behaviors of the others...especially thosse who commit crimes. Why is it my fault, or yours, that someone picks up a gun and kills another just because he was teased , or poor, or what have you? Lots of us have been teased, abused, raised poor or underprivileged, but we don't attack or kill others. Why should you and I, or the kids from his high school take the fall for this young man's mental breakdown and choice to kill? He made this choice all by himself, no one forced him to do it, no one forced him "into a corner". Just him! Just as the young men at Columbine, or the Timothy McVey's of the world. Let each of us take responsibility for our own actions, and teach our children the same, after teaching them how to handle life's disappointments and take advantage of life's great gifts.

  • littlegramma Apr 20, 2007

    Part of my post is missing... I said while I am heartsick about the tragedy at VT, I am so tired of people/media blaming the rest of us for deranged folks chosing evil acts. I was teased and abused all through my school days, at schools and home, but I never went out and shot anyone... never even thought about it? Let's start holding people accountable for their own actions instead of excusing it.

  • littlegramma Apr 19, 2007

    (continuing...) for his choices. Let's start demanding people suffer the consequences of their actions. Parents, start teaching your kids this fact of life (and let them learn it thru their own actions) and the world will be a better place. Teach correct principles and they will learn to govern themselves properly.

  • mellowed Apr 19, 2007

    I am posting this on 4/19, a couple of days after Amanda's post. We now know that the shooter, like the Colombine shooters, also suffered from senseless teasing over a period of years from his peers. Feelings of isolation and depression can fester strongly in those who lack confidence and emotional support. As parents, we must all teach our children to respect one another because like sticks and stones, words CAN hurt. It is a matter of life and death.

  • luvdogs Apr 19, 2007

    Very well written. I know my 1st thought that day was my own child. She's not quite 2, but I still thought of her and wanting to keep her safe. I cannot imagine the pain those families and friends are going through. I agree - hug your child, call your best friend. Be thankful for another day w/ the ones you love.

  • whatchoo_sayin Apr 18, 2007

    This tragedy took place only a 4 hour drive from here in Raleigh. Would we feel differently if it took place in Charlotte (also 4 hours away)? There is a false sense of comfort that many people have found in the fact that it happened on the other side of the NC/VA line, as though "it didn't happen here." A 4 hour drive is a 4 hour drive. That's REALLY close to home when you think about it.

    My point is, we all need to do as Amanda has in this article, and examine how short this life is. It is not a question of whether we will die, but when and how. We should make sure that we are prepared for that day, should it come tomorrow (I am not talking about living in fear). And we need to be thankful that we are not suffering the loss that these other families are facing right now. May God bless them all in their time of grieving.

  • Heelzrule Apr 17, 2007

    every day we live is certainly a gift. my thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this horrible tragedy.

  • Pokbelly Apr 17, 2007

    Excellent post. I only hope that instead of trying to find a reason "why", we take the last paragraph's advice. Peace...

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WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.