UMW Mourns VT

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By: Elizabeth Nowrouz

Posted: 4/19/07

It has been three days since April 16. Three days since maroon and orange became not just a team's colors, but a show of courage and defiance in the face of a national tragedy.

While the students, faculty and families struggle to pick up the pieces, schools like UMW are making every effort to just show their support.

It has been called the Columbine of college, and international news is still saturated with images of the victims, the shooter and a campus in mourning. Many students at the University of Mary Washington, located just 200 miles from the Blacksburg campus, had personal connections to Virginia Tech.

When senior Susan Alexander found out about the shootings, she immediately began contacting her high school classmates at Tech. It was not until the next morning that she discovered a close family friend was one of the victims.

"She was in her French class," Alexander said. Reema Samaha was a Virginia Tech freshman attending class in Norris Hall on Monday morning.

The two families had known each other for years, Alexander said, and "we would all spend our summers together."

Alexander returned to her hometown of Centreville to find it "transformed."

"There are signs and banners everywhere, because two of the victims were from there, but so was the shooter," she said.

Junior Nicole Halloran, who organized a vigil Monday night and has helped plan another for tonight, had many friends and classmates at the school.

"We should show solidarity," Halloran said. "This is one of the best and only ways to do that. This could have happened anywhere."

In the hours after the events unfolded, there was already a second vigil planned, this one by senior Jennifer Welsch and junior Jessica Thiel.

Thiel did not have any close friends or relatives at Tech, but felt she needed to pay her respects. The girls' Facebook group asked students to meet at the fountain in Palmieri Plaza at 9 p.m.

"What if someone walked into my class and started shooting," Thiel said as she passed out candles to the quickly forming crowd. "It's a Virginia school, I had to do something."

Thiel addressed the crowd, many of them wearing Virginia Tech colors, and asked them to form a circle and join hands.

She began to pray for "the students who woke up this morning and thought it was any other day, who walked into class, but didn't get to leave."

Thiel had barely begin speaking when the group from Ball Circle arrived at the fountain, and the circle grew to accommodate them.

When the prayer was finished, the students, who had numbered over 200, passed a bucket of orange Gatorate powder around, each person emptying a scoop into the fountain. As a chorus of "Lean On Me" spread through the crowd, the water slowly began to turn Hokie Orange.

Senior Kyle Ott, who attended Monday's vigil, had actually been in Blacksburg when the shootings took place.

"My girlfriend goes to Tech, so I drive down Saturday afternoon," Ott said. "She had a meeting at 10, and the campus went on lockdown while she was there."

Ott was not on campus, but could not get near because of the police.

"I was concerned about her and that she'd go outside," he said. "A girl from her sorority was killed, but she was fine and I left at like noon."

Though the responses have been mostly from students, many UMW faculty and staff had connections to the events as well.

Jack Bales, the reference and humanities librarian, is the parent of a Virginia Tech student. His son Patrick is a sophomore there. Jack Bales spoke of his experience in an e-mail.

"My son [called me and] asked me, 'Dad, have you heard the news,'" Bales said. "He told me about the first shooting."

Bales' son lives in West Ambler Johnston Hall, the site of the first shooting. His dormitory, like the rest of the campus, was locked down after the second shooting.

Families and friends struggled to get in touch with students at Tech all day. Cell phones stopped working early in the day, and so many of the victims' names did not come out until Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Associate Vice President for Business and Finance Richard Pearce is a Virginia Tech alumnus and parent. His daughter Darcey, a senior at Virginia Tech, was out of the area on Monday, but Pearce himself was at Radford University, a 15-minute drive from Blacksburg.

Pearce was at a function for accepted students at the university when he heard of the shootings.

"Everyone there was just glued to the TVs that whole morning," he said "The crowd was just numb. Even in the dining hall, it was just quiet."

Rick Hurley, vice president for administration and finance, who has assumed presidential duties, has been working with students and faculty to come up with an appropriate response to the events.

His first action was to increase police presence on campus.

"We weren't worried, but we wanted to send a message to the students," Hurley said. "We wanted to do what we could to give a higher level of comfort."

Situations like this, Hurley said, always raise questions about local security.

"We have a crisis management team that can come together at a moment's notice, as it did last week," he said, referring to the incidents with UMW President William Frawley.

"We contact academic buildings and residence halls, and have the residence staff get in touch with as many people as possible," he said. "For a school as small as we are, we can do that. It's an old-fashioned system, but it works."

Hurley has been working with students on campus to plan memorials to the victims. In addition to the state-wide vigil planned for tonight, Governor Kaine has declared Friday to be the national day of mourning.

"We are hoping to set up a line of students from the bell tower to Goolrick," he said. "Everyone will hold hands and observe a moment of silence."

"We all hear that we should not take our good fortune for granted," Bales said. "But until something like this happens, we all probably do."

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Elizabeth Nowrouz

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2007-05-21

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Elizabeth Nowrouz

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eng

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Elizabeth Nowrouz, "UMW Mourns VT," in The April 16 Archive, Item #184, http://april16archive.org/items/show/184 (accessed December 21, 2014).