Every time the date April 16, 2007, comes up, memories resurface for those of us in Blacksburg about that tragic day.
Every time there is an episode of gun violence anywhere in the United States, I see once again the picture of the mentally ill Seung Hui Cho, who wreaked unbelievable havoc and tragedy on the Virginia Tech community.
Recently I visited the second floor of Norris Hall, where 31 of the 33 deaths (including Cho’s) occurred. The beauty of the place belies the awful scene that first responders found there six years ago. It has been completely refurbished, and now houses the Center for Peace Studies and the Prevention of Violence.
My wife and I attended an open house at the center during a busy weekend last month, and there was almost no one there. In many ways, life has returned to normal. Yet the wounds are deep, and the memories are troubling for anyone who was here on April 16.
I was working at the Wesley Foundation on that cold and windy April day marked by blowing snow flurries. We were about 1/2 mile from Norris Hall.
The rest of that day and the days following, our center became a haven for our own Wesley students as well as others who were afraid, and needed warmth and comfort and maybe a couple of extra lines for phoning home.
In the days that followed, we prayed, we counseled, we fed students and had group discussions about “why?” One of my major jobs quickly became brokering the tremendous outpouring of tangible tokens of love from around the United Methodist world and other places: posters, cards, crosses, prayer shawls, Bibles and literally hundreds of dozens of homemade chocolate chip cookies.
The Wesley Singers participated in an incredible Sunday morning service at Blacksburg United Methodist Church on April 22, hearing an outstanding sermon by our pastor, the Rev. Reggie Tuck. All of these things, plus candlelight vigils on campus, helped the healing begin and then continue.
The April 16 shooting politicized me on the issue of gun violence. Regardless of the legal ramifications at this point, I am convinced that it is an ethical issue, a moral issue and a spiritual issue.
Tucson, Aurora and Newtown have only made it more clear that the status quo is not satisfactory. It is time for Christians, Jews, Muslims and other people of good will to act individually and collectively to do all that we can to curb this insane epidemic of citizen-against-citizen gun violence that has marked our country, almost uniquely in the world.
The day of the Newtown shooting, thinking about a young man firing a semi-automatic weapon repeatedly into the faces and bodies of first-graders at point-blank range, my reaction was “Enough!”
We must do whatever we possibly can to take a stand.
When the next Newtown occurs, we can at the very least say we have done all we can to prevent such carnage. We cannot say that today, because of the irrational rhetoric of the NRA and the cowardice of our politicians.
While it is true that Hokie Nation, the students, the campus and the community are all stronger because of what we all went through, we cannot let this keep us from continuing to work for the prevention of gun violence here and throughout our country.
One misguided reaction to April 16 was to advocate for the presence of concealed weapons on campus. This is clearly not the answer.
Imagine if the first-responders had entered Norris Hall to find numerous weapons in evidence. Imagine if others had been killed in the crossfire.
No, the lasting lesson of April 16 for us all should be, “Never again.”
Like the remembrance of the Holocaust, let us first say, “We will always remember.” More importantly, let us do all we can do as Christians and Americans, here and elsewhere, so we can say “Never again.”
—Tyndall is “almost four years into retirement from his position at Virginia Tech and enjoying it to the fullest.”