This entry is a compilation of some of my thoughts on the recent VA Tech shootings and the 1992 shooting at my College, Simon's Rock. Like many people, my thoughts are with the victims and survivors, but also on the past.
On December 14, 1992, a student by the name of Wayne Lo went on a rampage at Simon's Rock College of Bard (Now "Bard College at Simon's Rock"). It was a much smaller incident than the VA Tech shooting, not the least because the shooter did not clean his gun properly and his gun (an AK-S semi-automatic rifle) jammed repeatedly. At the end, two were killed and four wounded. The shooter himself, who could not commit suicide with the malfunctioning weapon, is still in prison. The campus, of about 350 students, was torn apart.
Like the VA Tech shooting, the campus administration were clustered together and dealing with an incident from earlier that day when the shooting started. There had been suspicion when a package arrived for Mr. Lo from an arms company, which he deflected by showing them some gun accessories he claimed he had obtained for his father, a Montana gun collector (the package had actually contained ammunition). A short time later, a residence director and family had received a death threat and had been escorted off campus. The administration had been widely criticized (and sued) for acting too slowly and for not intercepting the package (something they had no legal right to do). Like VA Tech, there had been nothing humanly possible to do and the criticism led to increasingly erratic rules in the years following.
The shooter started at the guard shack, critically wounding the security guard, then shot and killed a teacher driving onto campus. A student coming out of the library to assist the motorist was shot and killed next, and shots were fired into the library. He then proceeded past the pond and began firing into dormitories, wounding two others. I was on the phone with my girlfriend in one of the dorms when shots were fired into it. A number of people escaped when he inexplicably stopped firing, swore, then resumed. A friend of mine was saved when the Provost's dog distracted Wayne at a critical moment. Finally he holed up in the dining hall and surrendered.
When I hung up from my girlfriend (after finally convincing the idiot to lock her door and get under the bed...), the folks in my apartment immediately began calling police, ambulances, administration, etc. Then we started calling dorms and putting lists together of who could be accounted for and who could not. One student we had gotten hold of had seen another hit and go down and was crying in shame that he hid in his room instead of going to help. Our list had a lot of gaps in it and many would not be filled until the next day. Like VA Tech, the police arrived long after the shooting was done.
That first night was hell. After gathering in the dining hall, we were sent to bunk wherever we could. Several campus buildings, including dorms, were closed off with police all over. Our upper campus apartment was sleeping wall to wall. There were still people unaccounted for, people wounded who might not live, and explanations that were not forthcoming. For myself, I had another ghost to wrestle with: Wayne Lo had been a friend and former roommate and I had recognized his voice over the phone.
In the days that followed we learned more. We were also interviewed by state police. Reporters tried to interview us despite the police cordon; several snuck in through the woods that bordered the campus. One of them was dragged off bodily by a group of students after she attempted to interview the girlfriend of the student who had been killed. The shooting had occurred during finals week, and most of the test were canceled. Some left early, some stayed. Those of us needed for depositions had to stay.
Over that winter, I stayed with my girlfriend's folks in New England because I was told to be available for the trial. I was also ordered to not read papers, watch news, or discuss the incident for six months. I and others had to go to Boston for a day to talk to shrinks for one side or another. In the end, after being told I would be given 2-3 days notice to testify, I was called with less than 24 hours notice on the day of a major snowstorm and therefore never made it to the courthouse. I never testified, and a lot of the background on Wayne never made it onto the court record (or, therefore, into Gibson's book). It made little difference to the prosecution, however, as the evidence was airtight and he was found to be competent. I think he will be eligible for parole at 93.
In succeeding semesters, I had a great deal of difficulty coping with the wall of silence that surrounded the shooter. I was mourning for the victims like everyone else, but I had also lost Wayne, who I had considered a friend, and who had betrayed us all. But none of that could be expressed on that campus. I had a short essay published around campus, which opened some people's eyes, and elicited threats of violence from others.
That next year, as the administration tried to deal with the aftermath, new rules of all kinds were passed. Suddenly anything which had any conceivable relation to a weapon was now verboten. This came to a head one day when a student called in to security to say that another student had "a gun". The student in question was seized, the "weapon", a blue and yellow squirt gun, was confiscated, he was interrogated (for several hours) and suspended. After it was discovered that squirt guns were *not* actually on the new list, it was added retroactively.
A student community meeting was called and a protest organized. The core of the protest included myself, but also the two students who had been shot, and who, if anyone, had the most right to be paranoid and afraid. One of them was still walking on crutches from the three bullets he had taken. The Dean gave a statement, which was taped with his permission. He called out the students for daring to criticize his judgment in his attempts to protect them and filled his speech with fear mongering. Many students left in tears. The group of us who had started the protest had a transcript made and sent to a group of parents and the Board of Directors, which finally had a bit of an effect at reigning in the madness. The suspended student never returned to the school.
It never ceases to amaze me, but of the many people I have met in my life who have actually experienced and survived violence, they are usually *less* afraid and more stable than the ones who merely witnessed violence. It is the onlookers, the parents, the authorities who always seem to go off the deep end, not the ones who have the right to call for change. The victims quickly become pawns for people to assuage their own shame and guilt. Having been in contact with violence at several points, I do not have the overwhelming need some people seem to of making society or the government my protector. Perhaps part of that is because I have seen too many cases where authority is either powerless or actively detrimental, many times because of an inability or unwillingness to see a situation for what it is. Authority is important, but so is learning to stick up for yourself.
In particular, I am not pro gun control (outside carefully proscribed limits). I would rather people have a chance to defend themselves against a nut like Wayne than wait for the police to bag the bodies and wake up the families. Experience has shown in places like Virginia (outside the campus where people are actually allowed to carry weapons), that concealed carry does not increase crime and that armed citizens do often stop crimes in progress (although it is seldom newsworthy). After the shooting, I have a distaste for guns, and it took me years to work back up to firing one, but I believe it is a responsibility for someone to be able to care for oneself. I can cook and do basic mending as well.
It bothers me greatly that the Virginia Tech campus was closed to CCW permit holders just before this incident. I have no way of knowing of course, but I can just imagine someone dead among the sprawl of bodies who left their licensed weapon at home or in a car because of the new rule. Wayne had been a friend, but that night, I would have shot him in a heartbeat to stop him, even at the cost of my own life. Maybe he was sick, maybe it wasn't "his fault", but you don't let sick animals rampage, and it is everyone's responsibility, not just a few people in uniform, to keep our communities safe. The people in uniform can never be in enough places at once.
I hope the people at VA Tech pull through. I hope that the witch hunts and reactionary measures don't get too far out of control. I hope the kind of political opportunism that followed 9/11 does not happen here. I hope anyway.
God bless, and, if you made it this far, sorry for the long-windedness.