University Homicide: Trauma Revisited


University Homicide: Trauma Revisited


Submitted by <a href="">Shreya Mandal</a> on 17 April 2007 - 2:34pm.

Yesterday, as I sat in the lobby of the Elizabeth Detention Center waiting to testify at a hearing, I learned about the violent incident that took place in Virginia. A small flat-screen television hangs on a wall in the detention center&#39;s lobby. I sat there for almost six hours, each hour getting more and more agitated at the cell phone and video coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. Normally in these situations, I get up and turn the television off. But I was in a situation where I could not get away from the images bombarded at me. CNN shot the ongoing campus scenes throughout the whole day, reiterating over and over again that this was the biggest shooting ever to take place in American history. At first while I listened to the news reporters, I masked my fears, needing to act like I was in control, that everything was okay, and that I was strong enough to stomach the events they televised.

I distracted myself from the flat-screen television and tried to focus on preparing for my testimony. But as the hours went by, officers at the detention center passed by me, shouting out the latest death toll. First 21, then 22, then 29, then 31, then 32, and finally 33. It was impossible to tune out. I felt my mind and my heart drift back to when I was 16 years-old, when I was also on campus during a college shooting rampage. That was almost 15 years ago.

At various times yesterday, CNN provided history and statistical information of previous school shootings like Columbine and The University of Texas massacres. I waited for them to list my alma mater. But one school they didn&#39;t list was a small early undergraduate program called Simon&#39;s Rock College, tucked away in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. This is where a college campus shooting occurred on December 14, 1992, the first shooting to occur in the United States in the 1990s.

Each moment I looked up at the television screen, heard the ringing of gunshots, or saw limp bodies being taken away by police officers, I went further and further back to that cold evening in 1992. A tightness settled into my chest and fear steadily grew in the pit of my stomach.

It was the end of my very first semester of college and winter break was on the horizon. While most others were studying for final exams, I was involved in my usual course of procrastination and found ways not to study. It turned out that procrastinating saved my life that night. Rather than studying for exams, I attended a dance performance that took place on the other side of campus, away from my college dormitory on the main Simon&#39;s Rock campus. A friend and I went to the performance together for a little while before we began studying for the next exam. Little did we know about the murder and mayhem that occurred a few yards away from the building.

A couple of hours passed and the friend decided to head back to the dorm so she could go back to studying. Enamored by the performance, I decided that pre-calculus could wait a little more and stayed behind. We said our goodbyes and told each other that we would see each other later. I went back to enjoying the performance. Ten minutes later, the friend returned very agitated and said, "There&#39;s something going on out there, I heard gunshots." Within minutes, the performance stopped.

Fifteen years later, the exact sequence of that night&#39;s events seem blurry to me. But I remember someone announced that a shooter was going around campus shooting at people, and that the best way to ensure our safety was to stay calm and stay in the building. We did not know who it was. We did not know that it was a student. And most of all, we did not know if we were safe for sure. I remember staying in the building for a few hours with other classmates, wondering if someone was going to come in and shoot at us. Would I ever see my family again? Waiting quietly for answers and relief was a challenge. Listening to everyone&#39;s speculation and witnessing panic around me was even more difficult. We had no way of knowing what would happen next.

That night, four people were wounded. Two people were shot dead. One of them was my professor, Nacunan Saez, and the other was a beloved student, Galen Gibson. They were both very bright, creative, and vibrant people that were loved by the entire Simon&#39;s Rock College community. But we were all victims that day�all 350 students, faculty members, staff, and college administrators. And because Simon&#39;s Rock is such a small tight-knit liberal arts school, the pain of what happened hit us hard. We all went through a terrible and traumatic event that I will never forget. I know that the entire Simon&#39;s Rock community is holding a vigil to honor the tragedies that occurred at Virginia Tech and on their own campus so many years ago.

Ironically similar to yesterday&#39;s incident, the shooter at Simons&#39; Rock was also a young Asian student. He was born in Taiwan. His name is Wayne Lo. During trial, Lo&#39;s psychiatrist testified that he had Schizophrenia, while the prosecution argued that he had Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The prosecution "won" at trial and Wayne was found guilty of all 17 counts he was charged with. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms to Life without the possibility of parole. I did not know Wayne directly, but had friends who knew him. Even though I had been traumatized by the events back then, I felt that I was not in the position to judge what really happened to him or understand why he committed such a heinous crime. I was only 16. At the time, I also did not feel I was entitled to expressing the deep fear I felt since I had not been shot during the rampage at Simon&#39;s Rock. I rarely spoke about the incident that took place, until now.

It seems not much has changed between then and now, except that more and more senseless acts of violence are occurring in our schools across America. The scared young faces of dismayed students, the attempts to make sense of the situation, the desperate need for answers, make the rampant violence and victimization even more palpable. Here we go again. And as time goes on, the violence is getting more and more intense, each ordeal is of greater magnitude.

Another bit of irony rests in my career choice as a mitigation specialist. Often times my job is to assess mitigating factors that explain away crimes like murder. But yesterday&#39;s crisis demonstrates that we also need to look and understand the complete cycle of violence, the significant trauma that victims experience, and the insurmountable pain and torment that victims&#39; families feel. To me the nature of violence is never a black and white issue. In my experience, the answers we look for are usually in the gray area. But today my heart is with the victims I knew fifteen years ago, and the 33 killed yesterday at Virginia Tech.


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Shreya Mandal




Brent Jesiek


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0




Shreya Mandal, “University Homicide: Trauma Revisited,” The April 16 Archive, accessed July 25, 2024,