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The Valley Reporter
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"Unity gets us through trying times"

04/19/2007

By Pierson Booher

I would just like to take the time to extend my gratitude to all that have called and emailed me since the horrific incident here at Virginia Tech on Monday morning. I am writing this a short while after returning from the Convocation held this afternoon (Tuesday) at Cassell Coliseum, a gathering that, while emotionally taxing, was a strong reminder of the pride within the "Hokie Nation." We are a school of 26,000 students, only 20 or so of which are from Vermont, but spread well across the globe. The images the world has seen over the past few days are difficult for many of us to watch at this point; the chaos that took place has tainted our views of this once pristine and pure environment.

It is a campus billed as "incredibly safe," with a strong security and police force for a rural campus. Just this past weekend there was an Open House for accepted and undecided high school seniors, many of which I came in contact with during my job at the on-campus bookstore. I remember looking many of the parents in the eye and relieving their worries about the safety of their child were they to enroll here. In retrospect, I can't help but feel guilty for building up their trust, the trust of complete strangers, only to have it shattered within 24 hours.

As for my own experience, I was at work at the bookstore Monday morning. Around 9:15, police cars began flying by the entrance causing a slight sense of uneasiness within the building. As our supervisors' names began to be rapidly called over the intercom system, the experiences of the first day of classes began to come to mind.

For many who do not know, back in August a local 24-year-old escaped the custody of a security guard at a nearby hospital after being temporarily released from prison due to a fake injury. He then went on to fatally shoot a policeman on our campus while fleeing the following morning during a townwide manhunt.

Similar to that incident, we locked our doors in the bookstore on Monday and fled to the center of the store and away from windows. We were occasionally given updates, but the hour went by relatively slow until we began hearing rapid gunfire from a distance. An hour or so later we heard over the intercom that the death toll had risen from 1 to 20 and there was a collective gasp within the store. Many of my female co-workers began to sob, phones began to ring and people just began hiding anywhere they could. It was a tough moment seeing your superiors, both male and female, these people you hold in such reverence, crying and hugging with the rest of us as equals. The victims and affected were still completely unknown, but the heartache became increasingly real. Around 1:30 in the afternoon our building was evacuated and I eventually arrived back at my off-campus apartment only to watch the same images and interviews as the rest of you.

As the day pressed on, questions began to arise within all of us as to why this would happen and if it could have been prevented. News began to trickle down to us as to the safety of our friends and professors. We were flooded with calls and emails of prayer and love. Yet despite all of that, there was still this surreal aura about town.

We awoke the following morning, this morning, to more of a realistic beginning to the day as many identifications became apparent. Knowing the identity of the gunman temporarily sated our rage over the incident, but as we began finding out who had been lost and whom it affected, the tears returned. Thankfully, I was not personally affected by the shootings, but I regrettably cannot say the same about my friends. My girlfriend, who is originally from Blacksburg, was hit hard. She lost a friend from high school who also attends Tech as well as the resident advisor of the floor above her in her dormitory. Her younger brother's lacrosse coach was one of the engineering professors killed; he is only 12, incredibly innocent, and hasn't said a word in a day.

There are friends who were nearby when the chaos took place, and there are friends who had friends involved. Regardless, many of us mourn as if we lost a loved one, for we are all Hokies. The way in which millions have expressed their emotions to us are both deeply supportive and beautiful, and we will not forget this. I am roughly three weeks from graduating, and up until yesterday morning all I could find myself worrying about were finishing my thesis book, finding money for graduate school, and getting a job this summer. It is sad how a moment such as this causes one to re-evaluate the important facets of life.

Once again, I would like to thank everyone for their support and prayers both within and beyond the Mad River Valley. We are a tight knit group in The Valley, much like we are here in Blacksburg, and, as many of you know, it is the unity that gets us through trying times. Regardless of how the semester ends, we will go on. As poet and university professor Nikki Giovanni said earlier today, "We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on. We are embracing our mourning. We are Virginia Tech. We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly. We are brave enough to bend to cry, and sad enough to know we must laugh again. We will prevail. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech."

Pierson Booher attends Virginia Tech and is a resident of Warren.
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