Those were the first things that went through my mind when the local television stations began showing footage at Virginia Tech. I work with crime victims on a daily basis, but this felt different. My first thought was "How can I help?". I am certified through NOVA in crisis response so I immediately e-mailed Virginia's team leader in Richmond. We spoke that day and it was determined several victim advocates would be on stand-by in the event VT needed assistance. I then received another call Tuesday night "Can you be at Virginia Tech by noon tomorrow?" Absolutely. My co-worker and I arrived in Blacksburg around 10:00 a.m. and what we saw was overwhelming. The media and satellite trucks, the Virginia State Troopers....people were everywhere in the Conference Center. A group of victim advocates set up in the Family Assistance Center, then we broke into groups of two to handle different needs. Susan and I were sent to McCoy's Funeral Home to meet with family members of the deceased and to assist them in completing forms for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund. It was such an emotional time for everyone involved. The overwhelming grief and sadness in their eyes was almost too much to bear and we almost felt helpless. What do you say to a parent who has lost their beautiful daughter, who had so much promise in life, in such a tragic and senseless way? We met with Austin Cloyd's parents, who were such wonderful parents. You could tell there was so much love in their family and their hearts were broken. Austin was what I would describe as the perfect daughter. She was going to make a difference in this world. She had a purpose. After meeting her parents, Susan and I both felt like we knew Austin. We attended her funeral that was sad, but also uplifting. Many, many friends and family members spoke about Austin and what a great person she was and the fun times they had with her. We came away from that funeral with mixed feelings. Sadness and happiness, in an odd way. In the 18 short years Austin was on this earth, she made a difference in so many ways. Not many people do that in a lifetime, let alone 18 years. She was such a special person and we knew that she was now an angel in Heaven, just as she was on Earth.

The Cloyds were not the only family members we met with. Each reacted differently, and it was heartwrenching for everyone involved, even the employees of the funeral home. Susan and I began to worry about them. They too were overwhelmed, sad and shocked, but they had a job to do and they did it with professionalism and grace.

We spent a total of about 8 days in Blacksburg after the shooting and it has changed my life forever. I did not know any of the victims personally, but I felt their pain. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about this event and how horrible it was. However, the town of Blacksburg pulled together like a family. The Hokie spirit will live on. What Cho did will never be forgotten, but the Hokie's will prevail as they are strong. I felt blessed at having the opportunity to help in just a small way.

Virginia Tech will always hold a special place in my heart.

The victims remain in my thoughts and prayers.


Judy Gillispie




Judy Gillispie




Judy Gillispie, “[Untitled],” The April 16 Archive, accessed May 19, 2022, http://april16archive.org/items/show/104.