One Year Later

Today marks a Day of Remembrance at Virginia Tech, where 32 students and faculty members died April 16, 2007.
April 16, 2008

This week at Virginia Tech, the university honors the 32 students and faculty killed in a campus shooting rampage one year ago today. Among the week's solemn events, Brian Gendron conducted a combination choral and orchestral performance of Brahms's "Ein deutsches Requiem" on the campus Saturday. “The text itself deals with comfort and consolation of the living," said Gendron, director of choral activities at the university. It begins with a biblical verse, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted."

Colleges and the country at large are still feeling reverberations from the gunshots on Virginia Tech's campus, the massacre triggering national debates about gun control, mental health care, and campus security. In the past week, several colleges temporarily shut themselves down in the wake of threats to student safety. Coastal Carolina University canceled classes and activities as a precautionary measure Tuesday after a homicide and break-in occurred near campus. Threatening graffiti led to closures at Oakland University, in Michigan, and Malcolm X College and Saint Xavier University, both in Chicago. At Saint Xavier, which is to reopen today, President Judith A. Dwyer had asked all students to leave campus. The specific nature of a threat found last Thursday was of particular concern, she wrote in a campuswide message. The threat said, "Be prepared to die on 4/14."

Just outside Chicago, at Northern Illinois University, a "Huskies for Hokies" candlelight vigil is planned for this evening. Students and officials there are seeking to honor Virginia Tech just as students and staff in Blacksburg offered support after five Northern Illinois students died in a February campus shooting. Other tributes and services will be held today in a variety of settings, from Eureka College, in Illinois, to Wake Forest University, in North Carolina, to a St. Louis Cardinals game.

At more than 70 locations, including 32 college campuses, "lie-ins" are planned to call for tighter U.S. gun laws. Abby Spangler, a cellist who last April launched the grassroots effort -- organized under the domain name, -- recalled Tuesday the first protest. "I e-mailed my friends and asked them to lie down with me in front of City Hall in Alexandria, Va., to represent the 32 faculty and students who were murdered at Virginia Tech. We lay down for three minutes to represent the amount of time it took the Virginia Tech shooter to buy his gun.”

Nationally, The New York Times reports, state lawmakers are considering more measures restricting guns. As the newspaper reports, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is tracking 52 bills it has identified as priorities, an increase from 30 two years ago. Yet, so too, the Times reports, are some states considering bills that would expand gun rights, including for college students and faculty.

As one national student organization, the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC), argues: "In the wake of recent school shootings, such as the massacre at Virginia Tech, SCCC contends it is now abundantly clear that 'gun free zones' serve to disarm only those law-abiding citizens who might be able to mitigate such tragedies." The group won't be holding any protests this week, saying that today is to be a day of remembrance.

Photo: Kristina Heeger

Teach for Madame in action.

In Blacksburg today there will be art, music, dance, meditation -- even a game of softball played in memory of the victims -- in addition to an official commemoration ceremony this morning and a vigil tonight. John Welch, a junior international studies and French major at Virginia Tech, will spend part of the day off-campus, teaching French to students at Blacksburg's Harding Avenue Elementary School. He is the president of Teach for Madame, formed in honor of Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, a French instructor killed in last year's shootings. Since January, a core group of seven Virginia Tech students have been teaching 50 elementary schoolers beginning French every Wednesday, today no exception.

"It's something I guess to look forward to tomorrow, despite what tomorrow means to everybody," Welch, a former student of Couture-Nowak, said Tuesday. "Where it came from is this idea of how to best serve someone's memory."


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