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Va. Tech: The Desperate, Futile Quest for Meaning

Students, children really, captured the sounds of gunfire on their cellphones, and in minutes, the blasts were on radio and television. Professors, substitute parents of a sort, listened to the gunshots, some grabbing students off the sidewalks, others trapped inside their offices, unable to help.

The firing continued for half an hour.

As their friends died, college students, some of them not long removed from being tucked into bed each night, leaped from windows, and took off their sweat shirts to press them against bleeding wounds, and carried the injured out into the open, searching for safety.

But there was no safety to be found yesterday morning on the campus of Virginia Tech. In a society that floats on an ocean of information, the tools of technology kept spewing data, but the bits added up to no meaning. There was only an endless loop of unanswerable questions.

Hours after so many lives had been shattered, there was no motive, no name, nothing but an assurance that the bad man was dead and that he had acted alone.

So we were left with random images and sounds from a morning of random terror. Kids living on their own for the first time received only this guidance, an official e-mail, hours too late: "A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice."

Over and over, we saw the video shot by a student who had not yet been warned to stay inside, and students, parents and the rest of us demanded to know why the first e-mail from the college did not arrive until two hours after the first shootings. This in Blacksburg, the place Reader's Digest called the most wired town in the nation.

Over and over, we heard the recording of the shots. Students reached in their dorm rooms told us they were spending the day searching the Web for good information.

There was none to be had. Instead, we recycled the same expressions of horror and anger and sympathy.

Immediately, too many people tried to tie thin strands of information together to use in support of their particular causes and beliefs -- for gun control, for campus security.

But although we're good at measuring horrors against one another -- this is the deadliest shooting by one person in U.S. history -- we're too hungry to ascribe meaning where there is only something far more unnerving: No meaning, no message, just random rage.

As a soldier in Germany during World War II, Kurt Vonnegut, the great American writer who died last week, witnessed horrors even worse than the Virginia Tech killings. He reported what he'd seen, applied his intelligence and imagination to those incomprehensible human acts and came up with this: "So it goes."

If we could only understand, we could feel safer. It's the random that terrifies. The terrorists know that. In 2002, the snipers fed on that.

The mad act of a solitary killer -- a dead one who carried no identification -- randomly slaughtering innocents in the most optimistic phase of their lives, at a place that is entirely about creating possibilities, creates vastly more victims than the murderer managed to shoot.

Months, years from now, the pain and fear this man caused will diminish the lives of a generation of young people, just as the Columbine shootings did: Adults who grew up free to become masters of their surroundings, plotting their own innocent childhood adventures, will once again tighten the screws on their own offspring.

Security will be ratcheted up yet again. Schools and parents will assert ever-more constant surveillance and control over kids. And the freedoms that children enjoyed virtually throughout the history of civilization will seem ever more like something out of a distant work of fiction -- the backwoods rambles in Mark Twain's stories, the revelatory misadventures that J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield grabbed for himself, the road to places unknown celebrated by Jack Kerouac.

The relative handful of losers who emerge from some noxious soup of dysfunction with unchecked rage will be with us always. The question for the rest of us is whether to let their insane acts so diminish the lives of young people that the only frontiers left for them to explore are the virtual ones they travel through by click and scroll.

By Marc Fisher |  April 17, 2007; 8:41 AM ET
Previous: Eddie Stubbs Leaves the Building | Next: Va Tech: How Pols and Lobbies Play the Tragedy


Please email us to report offensive comments.

It's a bit early to be leeching off this story, Marc.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2007 9:19 AM

I appreciate your comments on this story, Marc.

Posted by: Fee | April 17, 2007 9:25 AM

Virginia Tech and Opponents of D.C.'s Gun Ban

For those still in denial about guns owned or in the hands of unpredictably unstable individuals, need only read this week's headlines. In as much as the U.S. Constitution affirms our right to own arms, it simultaneously does not infer that anyone and everyone should have guns without a legal need. Virginia Tech, one of America's most prestigious engineering colleges, is not immune to the acts of a demented mind possessing a combat grade firearm.

The tragedy in relatively peaceful Blacksburg, Virginia is a another cautionary tale for opponents of D.C.'s tough gun restrictions. The District of Columbia is certainly not devoid of random and sudden shootings by individuals with unknown standards of responsibility and mental stability. The District's ban on gun ownership, the strongest and most civilized in America, must remain.

In a capital city with numerous levels of security concerns, only trained police and security professionals should own guns. Any District resident that wants to take a stroll a on warm day or night deserves as much assurance against being shot as a public official walking to their government office. Individuals with inflated perceptions of danger or personal rights have no justifiable right to have a gun. The mounting deaths and injuries at a pastoral institution for learning took away any argument favoring personal gun ownership.

The case for a tighter gun ban throughout the United States has been affirmed by the tragic murder and maiming of innocent students and faculty on a quiet college campus. In a stress-ridden urban environment like the Nation's Capital, the Supreme Court should first and foremost interpret the Constitution for the greater good and safety of American lives. The best balance between real citizen rights and genuine public safety in a gun riddled society is made when a strict ban enables us to randomly walk our streets and campuses without taking a bullet.

Dennis Moore, Chairperson,
District of Columbia Independents for Citizen Control (DCICC)

Posted by: Dennis Moore | April 17, 2007 9:28 AM

Hey way to hold back on using the tragedy to promote your agenda. One could argue that, like at Appalachian Law School, if students/staff had weapons they might have minimized the number of people killed. One gun in the right hands might have prevented a lot of deaths. And there is nothing the DC Gun Ban would have done to prevent this from happening as a perpatrator could easily acquire 2 9mm handguns and ammunition. Ask the family of the man who was shot in PG County at a baby shower.

Posted by: Dagpotter | April 17, 2007 9:49 AM

Police authorities are behaving professionally and commenting responsibly. Would it were so with the media, which continue to hypothesize and even assess blame in advance of the facts, keeping us in ignorance of other significant news events as they do this. We are not in "a society that floats on an ocean of information;" we are drowning in sea of misinformation and salacious speculation. I'm sorry you are surfing this shameless tsunami, Marc.

Posted by: Mike Licht | April 17, 2007 10:11 AM

If someone, a guard, teacher, or other licensed person had access to a gun, perhaps less life would have been shed. Here's what happened just five years ago, as referenced by Dagpotter.

The Appalachian School of Law (ASL) shootings occurred January 16, 2002. ASL is an ABA accredited private law school in Grundy, Virginia, United States.

On January 16, 2002, the Dean, Anthony Sutin, Professor Thomas Blackwell, and student Angela Dales were shot and killed by disgruntled student Peter Odighizuwa, 43, of Nigeria. Three other students were shot but survived. After he ran out of ammunition, Odighizuwa was subdued by two ASL students who were former police officers. One of the students who helped capture Odighizuwa retrieved his service revolver from his vehicle after hearing shots being fired in the law school. The students held Odighizuwa until the police arrived.

Posted by: gf | April 17, 2007 10:21 AM

Thanks Marc, as someone who grew up experiencing the physical and emotional freedoms of times past and who's now trying to make sense of the world my teenagers face as young adults, your piece has helped me organize the emotions I'm feeling.

Posted by: Jay Dell | April 17, 2007 10:37 AM

If you want to push an agenda, you'll need to be a little quicker off the mark. Bush set a record both in speed and tastelessness yesterday through his spokesperson: "The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed".

So, bow to your masters at the NRA first, and then possibly express some sympathy for victims later, time permitting.

Posted by: JoeBleux | April 17, 2007 11:03 AM

Does anyone recall the dates of Waco, Columbine and the Oklahoma City bombing? Was yesterday the anniversary of those events? I doubt there's a connection, or only a coincidence.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2007 11:04 AM

Blacksburg VA must have the country's dumbest cops. They let him kill thirty people over a period of more than two hours and they don't even get a shot at him. He has to kill himself.

Posted by: Peter Samuel | April 17, 2007 11:18 AM

April 19th, 1993. Waco (date of end of seige and fire)

April 19th, 1995. Oklahoma city bombing

April 20th, 1999. Columbine

Posted by: Laura | April 17, 2007 11:20 AM

I see the nutjobs are already out in force. Nice. Peter Samuel, you win the first "moron of the day" award.

Posted by: Loudounian | April 17, 2007 11:36 AM

From gf's post "After he ran out of ammunition, Odighizuwa was subdued by two ASL students who were former police officers"

So, the shooting stopped NOT because somebody else got a gun but because the shoorter ran out of ammo. With an empty gun, any able-bodied person could subdue the gunman.

Posted by: To Dagpotter | April 17, 2007 11:37 AM

Class act there Dennis Moore. Couldn't wait to spout out your agenda, could ya.

DC has had the strictest gun control laws in the country for years. Those laws are still in place pending appeal. Question for you, Dennis Moore: How many walks do you take at night in Southeast DC?

Posted by: SoMD | April 17, 2007 11:44 AM

The factionalism on this board speaks sadly to the lack of shared purpose nationwide. We can't even mourn together anymore without taking our usual spots on the stage and breaking down into camps of mutual dislike. Nothing like not keeping the main thing the main thing, even on a day like this.

Posted by: vajent | April 17, 2007 11:52 AM

"The relative handful of losers who emerge from some noxious soup of dysfunction with unchecked rage will be with us always."

That's a lot of hatred for someone who may have suffered a lot at the hands of others and lost it psychologically. Not that that relieves him of any responsibility for any of his actions.

Why didn't someone recognize how troubled this guy was and, if they didn't have the heart to help him, at least alert someone. He was living in the dorms - his resident advisor should have seen signs that things weren't going well.

Posted by: James | April 17, 2007 12:45 PM

About 25 years ago, an East Asian graduate student in Physics used a gun to commit a similar (but smaller scale) mass murder at my alma mater, the University of Iowa.

Some of the comments posted above mention two other gun rampages at US universities (Appalachian School of Law 5 years ago, and Virginia Tech yesterday). These also were committed by foreign male (graduate?) students from East Asia or Africa.

I, too, attended graduate school in the US, as a foreign student. As such, I am troubled that all three mass murders were committed by people from this group.

Are international male students from poor, patriarchal countries under some extraordinary pressures, making them more likely to explode in extreme rage? For example, do they face crushing shame and poverty if they fail at school?

Posted by: Shelly | April 17, 2007 12:53 PM

I have a degree in psychology, have worked as a consultant with the Denver Police Department's Victims Assistant Unit, helping people cope with murders and suicides, sometimes before removal of persons involved. I have also coped with three incidences of PTSD, one related to a shooting.

Dear Students of Virgina Tech,
As you reach out for help, and you rely on each other, know that the country, if not the world can't feel what you feel, but we honor you by wanting to reach for you, to comfort and hold you and make it all go away.
Here are some things that you might find helpful. But remember, you are not the same as, and will not react the same as, anyone else; not even the person who might have been right next to you when this incident occurred.
Trauma that occurs during a crime is NOT the same as when it occurs during other trauma, such as a friend dying of cancer. Crime traumas are much more intense. No one is really prepared to deal with a crime. It is different when you experience it first hand. A fictional death on a show such as CSI is NOT accurate. When you are a victim of a crime, all of your senses are involved and overwhelmed.
Make things as simple as possible in the next few months. Abraham Maslow long ago identified that humans can't deal most effectively from their grief and with trauma until they have their basic needs met. Some of you will function on a high--an enormous rush of adrenaline. You will feel highly functioning, and then, you may crash, not understanding why you are suddenly feeling weak. This is normal.
And some of you will not be able to get out of bed from the very start. Take things slowly. Ask for help--even for the most simplistic things if you need it--have someone make a meal for you. At some point you will no longer need this aide, but that point is only determined by you.
Feel your victimization. As Americans, we are also taught not to whine and always think of others, even when our own pain is excruciating. Some people will tell you that you need to get over it, be brave, and not become a victim. But feeling like a victim is part of the process of healing, and if you don't let yourself feel it, if you don't cry for yourself, healing will actually be delayed. Grieve for the pain that has been so unfairly thrust upon you through this event. And it was unfair. BE ANGRY. This is also part of the process of healing. Not many people can jump from a state of anger to what lies beneath, sorrow, instantaneously. Anger is a protective measure your mind produces to help get you through the initial states of trauma.
In our society, we are used to instant results. There is no instant fix-it result for trauma. However, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not diagnosed for 4 weeks following a trauma. This is ONLY a diagnostic tool for insurance coverage. But, from my own personal experience with trauma, most of the symptoms can appear as soon as a few minutes later. It has even been studied that people who have nothing to do whatsoever with an event, and have only seen footage on TV, can also experience PTSD. This was never more apparent than after 9-11, when clinics observed a rush of new patients with a variety of illnesses, and psychologist's offices were full with people seeking group therapy.
Many of you will not be proud of what you did or didn't do during the event. Many of us want to have been a hero, not frozen in our tracks. But the fight or flight response is physiological--some people can slip into that fight response a great deal sooner than others. You may have laughed or felt excited. Very normal.
Other issues:
You may have trouble sleeping.
You may have bad nightmares.
You may lose or gain weight.
And it is OK to not want to return to school. Some people will tell you that getting back to normal as soon as possible is the best way to heal. Sometimes it isn't. Only you can say when you're ready.
Even the most steadily faithful will question their faith. You are human. Even though people tell you that God loves you and will make you strong, that you have to see the silver lining, you may not see anything good out of this for a VERY long time. These comments might even make you angry--that's ok.
You may become very annoyed with people who are trying hard to help you. OK, too.
A really good therapist is someone who will not carry you--will not tell you what they would do, to follow a specific plan, to get over it when you aren't ready. A good therapist will be empathetic, but will help you choose the things that will help you eventually stand on your own two feet. They will never tell you how you are SUPPOSED to feel.
Pets are a great therapy tool. I have a special needs child with a service dog. Did you know that a service/therapy dog does not have to have any formal training to be allowed into any buildings? And that no one is allowed to ask you for papers or for an ID for a service/therapy dog? As long as they behave and are picked up after, there should be no arguments as to their use. Service coats and badges are a courtesy for managers of buildings, not a necessity. They can be purchased on line. Google the ADA rules. Pets might make you feel better and safer about going back to school.
Don't worry about using crutches until you are healed. We use crutches while we heal from a broken leg--why feel bad about using one when you are emotionally wounded. (See note about drugs and alcohol. These are not appropriate crutches.)
You do not have to talk to anyone in the media. In my work I was surprised to find that many people who had felt they were required to say something.
But an odd thing has occurred in recent years regarding the media. They have become a forum for many of us to reach a lot of people at once. You may want to tell you're a lot in the beginning; it helps to talk about it to as many people who listen. You know people will ask you inappropriate, even hurtful questions. The media is filled with members who are grieving for you too. They may seem jaded and cold, cut off. Like many of us, we feel desensitized at times--we must protect ourselves to remain functional. What you don't see is them crying into their pillows at night.
They Police are a paramilitary organization. They must follow protocol. Are they just tough and compassionless? No, that's far from the truth. Like any organization, there are good and bad people. It amazes us that they can seem so "dead" themselves when reporting a crime, such as in a press conference. With complete composure, cops can relate facts such as "it was the most horrible thing they had seen in their lives" with no inflection in voice or face. Don't be fooled. In crimes that involve young people especially, they are as horrified, as compassionate, as helpless-feeling as anyone.
You may need medication. One of the worst things you can do is self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Let someone who is qualified to help you with this. It is NOT a sign of weakness to use medications if they are indicated. And the drugs that are available today have been proven helpful for millions of people over the years, in spite of what people like Tom Cruise might say.
You may find yourself fascinated with death, murder stories--suicide. This is a part of your own search to understand, to find out how this could have happened. It is normal, but very disturbing to those around you. It is best to go through these feelings with someone who is qualified to help you deal with them.
Most people have heard the concept of "Survivor Guilt." You may or may not experience that. If you don't, you might be made to feel that you should feel guilty for not having Survivor Guilt. Don't buy into this.
A lot will be made of the "phases of grief" that trauma victims go through. You may or MAY NOT go through all of them. You will certainly have a different cycle than anyone else. You most likely will not feel them in any order, or be able to deal with some of them as easily as others.
This incident will affect you, in various degrees, for the rest of your life. This is not meant to make you feel defeated; just the opposite. It is intended as a marker of awareness. Days will get better, you will feel more alive, you will realize there is little time to waste in this life, you will know what is most important to you.
But at some time in the future when you feel you have finally put complete closure to this incident, you will find yourself overcome with grief. You may not know what it was that "set you off." That's OK. Just know that you must allow yourself to grieve, and let no one tell you not to.
Americans are used to having "their day in court." Because of the killer's suicide, you will not have that. This may make you very angry, and is completely normal. You also don't ever, ever have to feel sorry for this person, though some people might tell you that you have to in order to have CLOSURE.
Closure is an interesting concept. Sometimes, you simply can't have it in the way that you'd like. It is also a totally individual thing. Letting go with your friends and family in a funeral, or service is one way for closure, but you may not feel satisfied with that. Ask a professional to help you design a way of closure that will help you, and you alone, let go.
And, finally, having grown up in Hawaii and been exposed to many Asian influences, I am aware that a student coming from South Korea most likely has a great deal of pressure or at least great expectation to succeed. Coming to America, especially as a first generation child, is considered a great honor. It is understandable, therefore that the killer would never tell anyone, especially family members, about problems. The parents of this son, therefore, would likely know nothing about this secret life, and will grieve deeply for everyone's loss. In fact, they will most likely feel more for other students' and parents' loss than they will for their own loss. Further, they will feel extreme guilt--a deep sociologically-based guilt that can cause them pain that many American parents would never feel. They will feel anger toward him, even hatred. They will feel tremendous shame, and no one could punish them more than their son already has. And when they bury him, they will want to know what evil had invaded their son, once just a baby like many of you. They did not want to have this happen to you, and could never have imagined it would.

I am available if you would like to correspond, but I AM NOT a replacement for a qualified mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Karilyn Starks

Posted by: karilyn | April 17, 2007 12:54 PM

Hey Mark....Iraqis experience this everyday, thanks to the 'heroic' efforts of our military over there. Do you expect the world to give a half a cr@p? I bet many are saying Americans deserved it.

Posted by: Playa Brotha | April 17, 2007 12:55 PM

What is wrong with our country?

I am writing this while living abroad in a bitterly poor South American country, and while its problems and frustrations and heartbreaks are legion this sort of thing never happens here.

"The relative handful of losers who emerge from some noxious soup of dysfunction with unchecked rage will be with us always."

We Americans are all stuck in the same "noxious soup of dysfunction." It turns a handful of us into shooters; the rest of us muddle through okay. But the poison is there. How the hell do we fix it?

Posted by: First-person Shooter | April 17, 2007 1:44 PM

No argument here:


Posted by: Jeff | April 17, 2007 1:48 PM

Please, please, please....can we not jump right to analyzing it's every aspect? Can we just stop for a minute?

No one has time to stop anymore. Is that why this keeps happening?

And we're all just typing away.

We're just kids, dammit.

-19 year old student at Oberlin College, Ohio

Posted by: Anna Ernst | April 17, 2007 1:55 PM

A word about the "children, really" remark: Yes, they are young. But not THAT young.

Remember, "kids" their age are being shot at in Iraq and Afghanistan (just as people that age were shot at in Vietnam, Korea and World War II). And, although we call them "kids," they are actually legal adults who can vote, own property, sign contracts, join the military, get married etc.

They should be addressed as adults because a lot of those "children" did a lot of brave things that many "grown ups" might not have done that day: Carry the wounded, evacuate classmates to safety, barricade doors to keep the killer out, did basic reporting their cellphone cameras etc.

Posted by: Andrew | April 17, 2007 2:09 PM

Banning all personal ownership of guns only bans them for use by law-abiding people. Criminals and nutcases will have total contempt for any such ban, and will find ways around it. Look how successful Prohibition was, and how successful our present *War On Drugs* has been! Human evil cannot be eradicated by wild-eyed knee-jerk laws. Education, counseling, and better emergency response might have helped to prevent this tragedy. And a SANE student packing a gun might have been able to save some lives by taking out the killer.

Posted by: oldhonky | April 17, 2007 2:12 PM

"Students, children really, captured the sounds of gunfire on their cellphones"
I find this line sad, yes they are young, but many of the same age group that end up fighting and dying in our wars do not have the luxury of going to college.
Will anything change? No, we will make more 'safety' rules. More metal detectors. more fear of our neighbors.
My prayers go out, and I hope that healing comes to all that were hurt by this henious act.

Posted by: kurt | April 17, 2007 2:35 PM

Maybe I have seen too many Hollywood action movies, but I find myself wondering, and I don't know what others think about this...especially when I read somewhere that the shooter was stopping to reload...did no one have the sheer raw physical courage to throw a chair at him, or jump him, or use something at hand to knock the gun out of his hand, etc? It seems everyone was just so frozen with panic no one reacted in a way that was counter-aggressive...please don't think i amsaying that i would have had this amount of physical courage...but some do, remember the heros on the airplane over Pennsylvania on 9/11...

Posted by: Cecelia Cox | April 17, 2007 3:07 PM

This is indeed tragic. But would we react the same if these students had been on a field trip and the bus crashed through the guard, and down the gully? The third bus in the convoy barely stopping before it also went over? Would we want to ban school buses or field trips or demand better guard rails? What makes this different? What if it were discovered that the brakes lines had been purposely damaged? The result is the same.

The difference is that this is completely irrational. What ever planning was done happened in a fog of irrationality.

Banning gun ownership will not prevent such occupancies. It will make it harder to pull off since an illegal weapon would have to be obtained first. That is not as difficult as it ought to be, and it is just one extra step. One thing that might actually make a difference is having the entire faculty armed! There was a case not too long ago in which the vice principal had a revolver with him and was able to minimize the tragedy that was caused by the armed disgruntled student, and so that would be a precedent. Of course then you have to make sure that none of the faculty are nut jobs! And it also means that if some thing like this ever happened again, faculty would very likely be the first targets.

Posted by: Old Geaser | April 17, 2007 3:17 PM

Cecelia Cox,

You've seen too many movies.

With 2 pistols, a person would reload one while the other has at least a few rounds, then the other weapon would be loaded. That way, if any one were to attempt something daring, it would come to naught very quickly.

As Sean Connerly's character said in "The Untouchables", "You don't bring a knife to a gun fight". Here there weren't even knives.

Posted by: old geaser | April 17, 2007 3:27 PM

I don't even know what to say. As much as I like myself and (some) fellow human beings, we seem to be doomed (by some really incomprehensible GOD), or at the very least WE our own worst enemies. There's nothing in known history that makes me think otherwise.

Posted by: sad world | April 17, 2007 3:45 PM

To everyone using this incident as a new excuse to ban guns, please come back to reality. DC has a ban on guns and is one of the most dangerous citites in the U.S. Maryland has severe restrictions on gun ownership and is one of the most dangerous states. Virginia, where it is rather easy to get a gun is among the safest places to live, even after yesterday. England and other European countries have gun bans and the violent crime rates have done nothing but rise ever since those bans went into place, including gun-violence. In most cases, the police are reactionary, not preemptive to crime. We can't have police guarding every house, imagine the invasion of privacy that would cause. While it is sad that this incident occured, more people will die this year in auto accidents and drownings than in gun related incidents - Should we also ban cars and swimming?

Posted by: Bill | April 17, 2007 4:05 PM

The victims weren't all children. Several professors -- one was in his 70's -- were also slaughtered in what they thought was a safe environment.

I have never owned a gun. I never needed one, and I doubt anyone really 'needs' a gun unless they are in the active military. I do not have to hunt and kill defenseless animals for food -- just pop into the local Giant or Safeway. Those who kill for sport are just as savage as this shooter. It is only sport when you give the animals the same weapons as the shooters -- level the playing field for all players.

This shooter was a resident alien and it was illegal for him to purchase or own weapons, but a receipt was found for the purchase of a gun in his backpack. Further, there was a 2-hour delay between the first shooting at 7:30 and the rest of the murders. Why wasn't the campus locked down then? Where were the campus police and Federal agencies? Hindsight is always 20-20 but there are a lot of fishy gaps in what happened yesterday.

This country is going down the tubes really fast and it makes me very sad we've reached this level.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2007 4:11 PM

around 114 people died in automobile accidents yesterday in this country..that is over 3 times as many grieving families and personal tragedies as the 32 or so murdered in cold blood at VT yesterday but as isolated incidents they do not merit or receive the same level of media attention. Of course the medias(television) wall to wall coverage of mass shootings such as that which happened at VT yesterday only helps to ensure that it will one day happen again.

Posted by: J Oldfield | April 17, 2007 4:22 PM

Marc writes: "Schools and parents will assert ever-more constant surveillance and control over kids. And the freedoms that children enjoyed virtually throughout the history of civilization will seem ever more like something out of a distant work of fiction.."

What? Having recently emerged from the state of youth (which now lasts until we're 30 right?) I would argue that our children are more free than they should be ---- without any of the responsibility that comes with freedom. In past generations most of those kids at VA Tech would have had several babies by now, lost a few more in childbirth and death, and the vast majority of them would be working dangerous and horrid jobs - not text messaging and myspacing and taking beer bong hits. Todays youth are out of control with freedom. This has been a horrible tragedy, but this opinion piece veers into meladramatic crap.

And this:
"The relative handful of losers who emerge from some noxious soup of dysfunction with unchecked rage will be with us always."
Hmmm...wonder if Marc ever bullied a nerd in his days? Or laughed at someone as they were bullied. What kind of attitude is that to take towards someone who was obviously mentally ill and marginalized by the "non-losers".

This is the Post???? Get rid of this guy.

Posted by: Joseph | April 17, 2007 4:30 PM

"we're just kids damnit" writes a 19 year old from Oberlin. I agree with the previous comment - at 19 you are an adult - even if you still suckle at the parental financial mammary. Perhaps we should read Cho's remarks as both insane, and paradoxically containing a message we need to wake up to regarding entitlement and youth.

Posted by: David | April 17, 2007 4:33 PM

A few thoughts. Regarding guns and whether we need more/less control, just Look at Fairfax County. One million people and lots of guns in closets and drawers. The county averages about 20 murders a year - and not all with guns. Compare that to the District. Or PG county.

I think what we have in this country is a failure to deal with mental illness. Just look at the killer of the two police officers in Fairfax last year. He had a history of mental illness, was an escapee from a mental health facility and a carjacker. He was bailed out of jail and his parents gave him access to guns. And so it goes.

Posted by: Annandale | April 17, 2007 4:47 PM

Working on people's emotions, positing meaninglessness or pointlessness, is unfortunate. There is however a significant portion of the thinking public that believes:

1) all people are more or less capable of bad actions (cf. Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago: "If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being."),

2) all people at some point in their lives experience suffering, often intensely,

3) all people at some point die and

4) there is indeed meaning to all of the above.

Many in the mass media do not appear to believe these things, and thus have nothing to offer their readers/listeners/viewers. Except gobs of "information", that is.

[cynicism]And face it, sad as it may sound, stories like this serve the interests of mass media (whether they like to admit it or not). Bad news sells. Or, at least it gives talking heads something new and riveting to talk about (the more riveting the better, as more eyeballs = more advertising $$ and bigger ego stroke).

Oh I know, there are truly dedicated professional journalists who really are motivated by informing the public, but the line between giving information and indulging in it gets crossed far too often.
Doesn't everybody to one extent or another relish the opportunity to spill bad news? Getting paid for just makes it sweeter. [/cynicism]

Posted by: Bugless | April 17, 2007 5:31 PM

Am I the only person who connects the dots?
What about the massive brutality of war as an acceptable way to get what we want or destroy what we don't like? What about the violence of rich countries allowing millions of children in poor countries to suffer hunger and poor health? What about people promoting hate, fear and revenge, helping to create free-floating hostilities? What about killing as entertaiment? As sport? As a sign of manliness? Perhaps these are all part of a pattern of irresponsibity?

Posted by: Jean G. | April 17, 2007 5:46 PM

Hi Marc: Thanks so much for writing your commentary on this tragedy. Your insightful and meaningful analysis of this painful and tragic ocurrence has helped to sort out the priorities. We as a nation should be asking what we can do to prevent this from happening again. The rhetoric will be around for awhile, but what should be done is for all of us to realize that the ready availability of handguns is not a right, but an accident waiting to happen. If we care enough about our children and grandchildren, we should be brave enough and candid enough to address this problem face on and lobby our congress and state representatives to outlaw handguns. We also need to put into place other safeguards such as waiting times and background checks to screen out those who are not fit to possess a gun. I for one, would like my children and future generations to feel that they can pursue their dreams without the fear that some troubled individual with a handgun can cut them short at a moments notice.

Posted by: H.Meltzer | April 17, 2007 5:49 PM

I agree with the idea brought up in this group of comments that hindsight is 20/20 as I look back on my previous comment. I am a kid/young adult/full, legal, responsible adult (depending on who you ask, I guess) and I was trying to express my sadness at the fact that in the aftermath of such a huge tragedy one of the instant reactions is to pound out reactions on keyboards. At least, this was one of my reactions, as evidenced by my previous comment. I think we should really talk to each other more often. I also think I should try to remember that what I choose to express with comments is what I believe and that I should make that very clear.

PS - I think the word "Raw" is in front of Fisher for a reason.

Posted by: Anna Ernst | April 17, 2007 5:54 PM

And yes, Marc, thank you for writing this and inspiring such a strong debate. Even if it is through a medium that I would like to see used less, I think that pieces like yours cause readers to consider why they believe what they believe.

Posted by: AE, for the last time | April 17, 2007 5:56 PM

Anyone who thinks an armed teacher would've stopped this is a darned fool.

An armed teacher is just a *disarmed and dead teacher* waiting to happen.

What are you proposing? Some mandatory law enforcement training for school teachers? Maybe some basic military p.t.?

Who is going to pay for this? Most state budgets can hardly afford "competitive" pay for teachers.

Who would teach while teachers are at "gun school"? We already have shortages of capable teachers and subs in almost every state.

If the expectation was to teach, serve double duty as law enforcement, and use deadly force if necessary, who would ever choose to become a teacher then?

There should have been better campus security. There should have been a cop car within a quarter mile of either incident.

Pawning that kind of responsibility off to teachers is ridiculous.

Posted by: Phil | April 17, 2007 6:15 PM

And yes, I know this was at a college.

Think back to your college professors. How many of them would you have trusted with a firearm?

(Service academies exempted)

Posted by: Phil | April 17, 2007 6:18 PM

Three brief comments:

1) My sincere condolences to the victims and their loved ones.

2) As far as I'm concerned, if people need to walk around carrying guns to feel safe, then by definition that society has failed in its basic mission.

3) I hope this doesn't sound callous, but when 33 or so people are killed every day in senseless violence in a country we invaded and are responsible for, I'm having a hard time viewing this particular act of idiocy as anything more than just another senseless act of violence, rather than as anything more profound.

Posted by: Andy | April 17, 2007 7:09 PM

"A few thoughts. Regarding guns and whether we need more/less control, just Look at Fairfax County. One million people and lots of guns in closets and drawers. The county averages about 20 murders a year - and not all with guns. Compare that to the District. Or PG county."

A bad analogy, given that Fairfax's socioeconomic demographics are far different than D.C. or Prince George's. (Working-class and poor communities tend to have higher crime rates than wealthy areas.) How about comparing Fairfax's per capita murder rate to Montgomery County, a better demographic match and a place where tighter gun laws are in effect?

Posted by: Vincent | April 18, 2007 2:43 AM


"People who want to take this within 24 hours of the event and make it their political hobby horse to ride, I've got nothing but loathing for them."
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine

Posted by: SoMD | April 18, 2007 7:26 AM

Please review this article about Cho
A Closer Look at the Minds of Mass Shooters
April 17, 2007 -- - Renowned forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner has examined some of the most notorious mass shooters of recent years. As details emerge about Seung-Hui Cho, the chairman of the Forensic Panel is following the case for ABC News and sharing his insights from his experience and current medical literature. Using the latest informaton, Welner believes the evidence strongly supports that Cho had paranoid schizophrenia.
What does the notion of a South Korean assailant do to the staple notion of a white male assailant as the likely perpetrator of a mass shooting?
Cho reportedly came to the United States in 1992. We know little of his upbringing, but many immigrants are nurtured in cloistered communities.
A person with little ties to the United States draws less from destructive icons, be they Rambo, the Terminator or others whose manhood ties closely with superior firepower and the capacity of one to destroy many. What a forensic psychiatrist would want to know is, how socialized he was into American cultural icons of manhood and militarism?
We cannot generalize about South Koreans. It is an advanced nation with an ambivalent cultural relationship to the United States. Many South Koreans have a tremendous appetite for American culture. There is no greater sense of identification with American culture than choosing America for his college years.
So culture matters?
Absolutely. An assailant who carries out a crime of the alienated, the emasculated, the rejected may have been inspired to a destructive path precisely because of how much he associated mass shooters with the American iconography. I examined Byron Uyesugi, a Xerox repairman who killed seven people in a November 1999 workplace shooting. He was Hawaiian-born of Japanese descent but was educated in the mainland and very much took to the soldier of fortune culture.
A lot of people compare this attack to Columbine. Is this a typical school shooting?
A typical school shooting occurs in high school. The dynamics of a student resentful of a school he is attached to and deeply alienated from have fueled previous high school shootings.
Clearly, the Virginia Tech gunman targeted a classroom building. The more specific a target choice, the more it links to his emotional conflict. We would have to understand his relationship to the school. Was he overly invested in scholastic success and facing impending failure? Or was his failure to succeed, and his relationship to any of the students or groups at the university a source of emotional defeat?
So if the perpetrator here killed with the same dynamics as a high school shooter, does that suggest someone with that developmental level of maturity?
College-age men have a better developed capacity for anticipating long-term consequences, appreciation for the rights and bodily integrity of others, and a better developed conscience than an adolescent. A college-age man is developmentally better able to brake a violent fantasy before it grows into a plan and an elaborate modus operandi to carry out a catastrophe.
Therefore, when a 23-year-old shows an impaired capacity to stifle a fantasy before it develops into a complex mass shooting plan, as a forensic psychiatrist I wonder about the sources of his developmental limitations.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 18, 2007 1:41 PM

Peter Samuel, as an aside to you, I have a home approximately 50 miles from Blacksburg. I take offense to your off-handed characterization of the Blacksburg Police. I reread your comment a few times before I decided to comment as it seems misinformed and superficial.

Blacksburg is a college town with very little crime. The law enforcement you saw WAS NOT just local, it was regional. The campus police responded to an initial set of homocides that pretimed the second assault by two hours. They were involved with local police investigating those murders. I will always believe the two hour stagger mislead everyone into the false assumption that it was domestic and isolated in nature. And, it concentrated the resources there in that area. What you may have missed while watching the cell phone video played repeatedly ad nauseum, is the repetition of shots second after second that semi-automatic weapons so aptly produce. 911 calls were already in progress. Police were on site. State police, and policeman from other locales including SWAT also were present as soon as possible. Geographically, some of the police came from areas that are near, but requiring commuting some distance. This was murder by ambush, took very little time to accomplish, and afforded no defense by anyone inside or outside the building.

This crime has caused so much devastation to the local folks, and shock that their community is not immune from crimes that defy immagination.

Posted by: Rebecca RN | April 18, 2007 10:29 PM

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