The students at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech are usually rivals, but the poster made it clear that they weren’t at that moment. They were united in grief.
Recently, I found a photo of the poster in a digital memorial archive created by Virginia Tech. Yes, after mass shootings, grief is archived. It is preserved to allow future generations to see how people collectively responded and mourned. I had seen the poster in person and it stayed with me, but I wondered if my memory had correctly listed it as a powerful symbol of unity. Zooming in on the photo showed that it was there.
“It’s not about different logos, school colors or traditions, we’re all from Virginia!” It reads a hand-scrawled message.
“Your pain is our pain so stay strong,” read another.
“You are our sister school and our prayers go out to each of you today. Know you are not alone,” reads another.
Those who found themselves on the Virginia Tech campus during those difficult days, or who watched from afar, may remember seeing a phrase played out on the two schools’ emblems. It turned out to be a rallying cry of support – Hoos for hockey.
This week, the reverse of that phrase appeared on T-shirts and hashtags: Hokies for the Hoos.
This week, it was Virginia Tech’s turn to mourn along with U-W. After a student gunman opened fire on a bus returning from a DC field trip, the group watched a play about Emmett Till and ate Ethiopian food. The gunman killed three students and injured two others in his rampage.
How does a U-V. Class trip ends in gunfire and death: ‘Get off the bus!’
The three students who were killed — Devin Chandler, Laval Davis Jr. and DeSean Perry — were too young to remember the Virginia Tech massacre with much clarity. But many Virginians remember it vividly, and that context is important. Impact spills out. It flows. It is stigmatizing. Now, two groups of college students in Virginia have had to feel the impact of a campus shooting during what should have been one of the most freeing times of their lives.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin visited the University of Virginia on Tuesday and walked to a makeshift memorial outside Scott Stadium. He carried three bouquets of flowers.
“It’s really scary,” he said when approached by reporters and asked if he had anything to say. “You’ve got three young men whose lives were cut short. It’s a moment for all of us to realize that families need to be supported and the community here needs to be supported … it’s a moment to realize that there are so many things that are so insignificant compared to what. This community and these families are facing today.
His chin quivered as he spoke. He looked genuinely emotional.
“It’s beyond what any parent can imagine,” he said. “Myself and the First Lady, our hearts are broken for these families, and I know there is nothing we can say, nothing we can do to bring them any kind of comfort today. So I think this is a moment for us to come together and support them and pray for them and recognize that this is an opportunity for us as a community to come together and grieve and support them.
Youngkin is right — this is “a moment for us to come together.”
It is also a moment to do more than offer flowers and condolences.
Youngkin is right – for the grieving families “there is nothing to be said, nothing to be done to bring them any kind of comfort today.”
But the pledges lawmakers can make and the actions they can take will give them a semblance of relief in the future and help more families avoid their grief.
Youngkin was right — what happened was “truly horrific.”
But not, as he put it, “beyond anything any parent could imagine.” Parents in Virginia imagined it. I am a parent in Virginia and I imagined it. Virginia Tech made sure of that. Few could have closely watched the aftermath of what happened there and put themselves in the shoes of parents who took their children to campus, decorated their dorm rooms, and filled with hope — only to find out later that their children had been shot and killed. .
Days after the shooting and in the years that followed, I spoke with the family of one of the slain students, and an image has never left me. The student’s mother described keeping things in her daughter’s dorm room in neatly labeled boxes, sometimes pressing her nose into small openings on the sides, looking for her only daughter’s scent.
WA Tech massacre: Two families push for answers, apology from university
“People don’t understand. Erin was our compass,” Celeste Peterson said at the time, referring to her daughter, Erin Peterson, who was 18 when she was killed. “She steered us in the right direction. We’re rolling without her.
After the Virginia Tech shooting, investigations began, panels were formed, and changes were made. A major improvement that has grown since that moment is that colleges now send alerts faster. But the state has failed to take the gun control measures that would help keep our schools and communities safe — and has seen the cost time and time again. Firearms have been found to regularly flow into the district from Virginia, where they fuel rising homicide and crime rates. More details about the gun used by 22-year-old Yu-Wa are likely to emerge. The shooter, so far known, was convinced he was carrying a concealed weapon and university officials knew a student had a gun with him.
Young now has an opportunity to not only say the right things, but to take the right steps to combat gun violence. Time will tell if he is ready.
What was saved: Ten years after the Virginia Tech shooting, the objects of grief
“The senseless gun violence at UVA last night is horrifying and begs the question; How long will it take and how many lives will be lost before bipartisan common sense gun control laws are passed? Virginia Sec. L. Louis Lucas (D-Portsmouth) Tweeted After the UVA shooting.
How many more times will we have to witness our schools being closed and our students united in grief?
Several posters were sent from the University of Virginia to Virginia Tech after the 2007 shooting. One person I saw wrote: “Now let us not forget the gift of community that the dead have given us. Let’s take this sense of compassion and love for one another … and lead it to an era where violence is no longer a legitimate form of power.