Ten years ago I was at work in the newsroom at The Herald-Sun when I heard about something going on at my alma mater, Virginia Tech.
Ten years ago was post-Columbine, already an era of mass shootings in public places we had thought were relatively safe. The murders of 32 Hokies where they lived and studied became a new record for massacres. Hokies simply called it April 16, the date being enough to mark the event. Outside Blacksburg, it was referred to as the Virginia Tech shootings or the Virginia Tech massacre.
It became something Tech was known for beyond its engineering program or football team that attracted star players like Michael Vick under coach Frank Beamer.
In 2007, I had already lived down here for a few years. But seeing the reality unfold in photographs and coverage by national media whisked me back to the town where I lived for 12 years as a student and then a local resident.
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It was different, being a student in Blacksburg and being someone invested in the town in a different way, as a taxpayer and voter as well as a local reporter. I worked for two community newspapers in the New River Valley before working at The Roanoke Times’ bureau in Christiansburg, so I knew that area well and on a different level than those who come with scheduled plans to leave.
I loved that town and knowing the mayor and the police chief, not just in Blacksburg, but in Christiansburg and Radford, too. My husband and I were married on the Virginia Tech campus in 2004, and the officiant was the county’s emergency services coordinator I had once done a story on when he was pulling double duty as chief deputy and a pastor.
When I saw the photos of the Tech shootings and aftermath, I recognized some of the police officers. I thought about my former newspaper colleagues who were writing about it that day with all the national media, too, and how they’d be around after the cable television cameras left. Indeed, the local papers there have continued to write about April 16 over the years, not just about big issues like gun control and campus safety.
The people connected to Tech — as a student, employee, parent, fan, resident — they’re all part of Hokie Nation. Hokie Nation is more than just a hashtag, it’s a feeling of belonging to each other. I’m a Hokie forever. For good. And it’s just like any other team or community using a phrase to connect to each other. United in sorrow, in outrage, in happiness, in rooting for your team, in sense of place, in daily life.
Why is some North Carolinian writing to you about a tragedy in another state a decade ago? Because we’re all connected. And remembering something that happened, and the thread that connects you to it, connects you to humanity. I’m writing about this anniversary in this moment, holding space for one of our many connections to each other.