OUR LIVES ARE MADE UP OF DAYS we will always remember. They can bring us great happiness and deep sorrow. They help shape and make us who we are. We can be forever changed by these days.
For me, one of those was 14 years ago, on April 16, 2007. Now retired, I was a staff member at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. On that day 33 students and faculty (including the gunman) lost their lives in a senseless act of violence. Nine of the victims were in my department.
There are so many memories of that day and the days that followed. I remember leaving my building and seeing more ambulances and police cars than I have ever seen in one place. I remember the departmental memorial service, arranged by our graduate students. Five families attended and shared their sorrow with us. I remember a campus united in prayer.
Prayer is something that you don’t see openly at many colleges. But on this day and the days that followed, everyone prayed, whether Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, or even atheist. I remember what some may say were small acts of kindness: e-mails, flowers, calls, letters, banners, and even 7,000 pounds of maroon and orange M&M’s.
More Senseless shootings
In the years since the tragedy, we have seen many senseless shootings: at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis; in a Boulder, Colo., grocery store; in three Atlanta spas; at a gas station in Springfield, Mo. In the last five years, the United States has experienced 29 mass shootings, according to the Violence Project.
Our country remains in a heated debate about gun control. There is great passion on both sides of the issue. I think we need common-sense gun laws. But if we think that these alone will prevent such tragedies as those at my school and in other places in this country, we are naive. We must do more. (Download Women of the ELCA’s free resource on combatting gun violence.)
As the story of the gunman at Virginia Tech began to be told, it was apparent that he had many problems well before April 16, 2007. The faculty and staff didn’t feel they knew how to get him the help he needed.
Like that gunman, the people who committed these horrible acts are troubled. We also need passionate debate and discussion about how to recognize and help these troubled individuals before they harm others and themselves.
Jody Smiley, of Blacksburg, Va., is president of the Virginia synodical women’s organization and a former member of the churchwide executive board. This was updated from a 2007 blog.