Salem State rallies behind Virginia Tech


Salem State rallies behind Virginia Tech


By Lisa Guerriero/
GateHouse Media
Fri Apr 20, 2007, 04:30 PM EDT

SALEM - The flags at Salem State College flew at half-mast for three days this week in a show of solidarity for the 32 victims of the tragic shooting at Virginia Technical University on Monday. The gesture was perhaps the subtlest undertaken on a campus that was deeply affected by the shootings in Blacksburg, Va., the deadliest campus massacre in the nation's history.

"It's sad and kind of shocking, because you don't know if it could happen here," said SSC sophomore Jenn Runyan.

Police have identified the shooter as Cho Seung-Hui, a South Korea native and VT senior who went on a brutal shooting rampage and then turned the gun on himself, bringing the death toll to 33.

The tragedy hit home for Salem State's faculty and students, as it did at other colleges, and even more so because one of the victims was a Saugus resident, 20-year-old Ross Alameddine, a graduate of Austin Preparatory High School in Reading.

A number of SSC students have friends at Virginia Tech, and one professor taught there before coming to Salem State, said Bruce Perry, the director of the SSC campus center.
"So there's ties and connections," he said.

The president of the Student Government Association, Michael Mitchell, helped coordinate several events and tributes in response to the tragedy and received some 50 e-mails from students offering to help organize a memorial.

"We had a meeting (of the Student Government Association) and it came up that we, as students, can't sit by and let this go unnoticed," said Mitchell.

Salem State was on break for Patriots Day when the shooting happened on Monday, and when students returned Tuesday, campus was buzzing as students exchanged information and pieced together what had happened in Blacksburg. By Wednesday, the effort to support Virginia Tech was already under way.

Perry received an e-mail from Julie Walters-Steele, the director of university unions at VT, asking colleges and universities across the country to send cards and messages. A spot had been cleared at VT to display the tokens of support, and Salem State is doing its part to fill that spot.

"I think people were looking for something positive to do, some way to express their emotions around it," Perry said.

Salem State rolled into action, setting up posters at hotspots around campus. Large posters bore the outline of the Virginia Tech logo, with ribbons decorating the inside of the letters "VT." The posters read, "4-16-07 Today We're All Hokies," in honor of the name of Virginia Tech's turkey-like mascot. That day, students in the dining hall crowded around one of the posters to write messages and pin on flowers and white ribbons.

"To the Virginia Tech community - Salem State will keep you, the victims and their families in our hearts," one wrote. Students in the dining hall on Wednesday evening told the Gazette the shooting summoned feelings of sadness, sympathy and even a degree of fear.

"We relate to it more. Just because we're on a campus, and it could happen here," said Emily Marte, a sophomore who will be a resident advisor next year. She noted that an RA was one of the first killed during the Virginia Tech shooting.

"It makes you feel different when you look at people," added Stephanie Baez, a sophomore.

Students and faculty found another outlet to express themselves and show support through Facebook, the social networking Web site used by colleges around the country. Mitchell, the Student Government Association president at SSC, had seen a Facebook group created after the 1997 high school shooting in Bowling Green, Ky. Mitchell took the lead from them and created a Facebook group called "Salem State Remembers Virginia Tech." The image for the group is a hybrid of the Salem State and Virginia Tech logos.

Mitchell sent out a message to about 300 people affiliated with his Facebook, who in turn passed the information along to their friends and peers. Within a day, 700 Salem State students had joined the group, posting messages of sympathy for the VT community and making suggestions for how Salem State could contribute.

"It's really powerful to see in one day, one-fifth of the campus come to stand behind Virginia Tech," Mitchell said.

SSC student Pat Reidy said many Salem State students changed the images on their Facebook profiles from their own photos to the VT logo. "It got around really quick," Reidy said.

One of the most important messages shared was a call for the college to organize a vigil. Just as quickly as the posters were created and the Facebook group formed, faculty and students at SSC organized the vigil, which is scheduled for Monday, April 23 at 7 p.m. outside the Central Campus residence hall. Organizers made the decision to open the vigil to the public, to anyone who wants to show support and reflect on the tragedy.

"It's a time for the community to come together to express their emotion in regard to the tragedy that happened," Perry said.

The student government and the college pooled some money to purchase 1,100 white T-shirts that say the VT logo and the phrase "4-16-07 Today We're All Hokies," as well as 1,000 white ribbons for participants to pin on their shirts or bags.

The college plans to line up participants to spell out the VT that is the Virginia Tech logo, and take an aerial photo to send to the university. SSC President Nancy Harrington will attend, and several student leaders will offer brief remarks. Mitchell hopes one of the deans, who is also a pastor, will lend his services.

Perry said his office teamed with the Residence Hall Association, faculty members and the Student Government Association to coordinate the events, but students were the driving force.
"The whole idea has sprung from the students," Perry said.

Mitchell said he hasn't seen the student community so collectively moved since the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He sees a few core reasons for the outpouring of support. It hits home that a victim was from a neighboring town and that students and a professor have ties there.

"That, coupled with the fact that the victims are all their age," Mitchell said, "and it happened on a campus - it could have happened here. It really could have."

The public is invited to a vigil for the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting and their families, hosted by Salem State College. The vigil will be held Monday, April 23 at 7 p.m. outside the Central Campus residence hall.

A memorial fund has been established to remember and honor the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting. The fund will pay for counseling, memorials and other expenses. To contribute, visit


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Lisa Guerriero / GateHouse Media, “Salem State rallies behind Virginia Tech,” The April 16 Archive, accessed May 19, 2024,