Local News

Shock Gives Way to Sorrow on Va. Tech Campus

Posted April 17, 2007 1:25 p.m. EDT
Updated April 17, 2007 8:39 p.m. EDT

— One day after a Virginia Tech student opened fire on campus, killing 32 other students and faculty before turning his gun on himself, grief quickly overtook shock as the prevailing emotion in the community.

Students sobbed uncontrollably as they walked across campus or hugged each other for support without letting go. As the names of victims were released, many people realized they knew or had a connection to someone on the list.

Austin Phoenix, a sophomore from Chapel Hill, said two of his friends were shot in the rampage, including a girl who took a bullet to her hand while trying to barricade a classroom door to keep the gunman at bay. Both friends are recovering in a local hospital, he said.

"You can't believe something like that actually happened," said Phoenix, his voice cracking as he tried to contain his emotions. "Thirty-some people is just a number, but when they show the faces, (you see) kids who have done nothing wrong and have all of their life ahead of them. (You think) that could easily have been me or someone very close to me."

Bob Tauchen, another sophomore from Chapel Hill, said he was getting out of class Monday morning when the gunman went into a classroom building and started firing.

"it's just so surreal that something like this could happen at a small town," Tauchen said. "In some ways, you almost don't know what to think. It's such a tragic event, there are so many emotions that you about don't know what to go with."

Several students from the Triangle said they plan to go home in the coming days since classes remain canceled at Virginia Tech. They said they don't want to sit around replaying Monday's events and would rather get some separation from the campus to reflect before returning in a few days.

"I almost would rather have school in session so there's something else to do," Phoenix said.

For Jamie Evans, a Durham native who has worked at Virginia Tech for 20 years, Blacksburg is home and there is no escaping the aftermath of the shootings.

"You just don't know what each day's trials will bring to you," Evans, a power electronics system developer in Virginia Tech's engineering school, said with tears in his eyes. "After the media leaves and everything else happens, we're still here. It's a day-to-day reminder for a long time.

"Everybody's life is changed forever."

Still, Phoenix said the campus needs to move past its grief.

"The next step is to get back to normal as soon as possible," he said. "You can't let this throw you way out of whack."