“You want the truth?” Castleton State College student Jason Swift asked.”‘Cause I don’t think you could put the truth in the paper,” Swift said, referring to his initial reaction to the shootings at the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va.
Castleton and other colleges and universities around the United State were greeted with a violent dose of reality on April 16, as the Virginia Tech shooting left a nation in mourning and searching for answers.
“The events at Virginia Tech have filled us with sadness and grief for our colleagues and their students at that institution,” Castleton President David Wolk said in a statement issued on April 19.
The Virginia Tech campus was rocked to its knees that Monday, in what has been called one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. Seung-Hui Cho, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech senior majoring in English, took two handguns — a Glock 19 and Walther P22 – and turned them against his fellow students just as the morning classes were ready to commence.
Cho began the shooting spree shortly after 7 a.m. in the West Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory, killing resident advisor Ryan Christopher Clark and leaving Emily Hilscher mortally wounded. Cho later traveled across campus and killed another 27 students and five faculty members in Norris Hall sometime between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. He later turned the guns on himself and committed suicide.
The impact of the shooting has been felt worldwide, leaving seemingly safe colleges wondering if their campuses could also fall victim to such an event.
Castleton student Megan Morton brought up such questions in a recent letter to The Spartan staff.
“The chances of such a tragedy at Castleton are slim we know, but it can in fact happen anywhere,” Morton said. “Even to our own small college with a big heart.”
Morton pointed out that it wasn’t long ago that Vermont also experienced a similar event on a smaller scale.
In August of last year, an enraged 27-year-old Christopher Williams, armed with a gun, went into the elementary school in Essex, Vt. in search of his ex-girlfriend. Although Williams was unable to find her, by the end of the day, two people — one of them a teacher at the school — were killed while several were left wounded.
Ben Beatty-Owens, a CSC student who spent the majority of his spring semester traveling around in Mexico. He had only been back in the U.S. for a few weeks when the shooting hit the headlines.
He placed a great deal of blame for the shooting on American society, stating that it is America’s nature that leads it to react to situations with such hostility and violence.
“When something goes wrong, our society teaches us to respond with violence,” Owens said. “It’s like the president responding to an issue with a foreign government with cruise missiles.”
Cho was described a social outcast at Virginia Tech with a history of violent tendencies and was suspected to pose a potential threat to himself and those around him. He was accused of obsessively stalking numerous female students on campus and his professors urged him to seek counseling. He was admitted for psychiatric evaluation in December of 2005.
A Castleton student, who wished to keep her identity private, admitted during a recent event with CSC President Dave Wolk that she too has experienced incidents with a CSC student who shared some of Cho’s tendencies.
“Last year, I went through hell with someone [on campus] I had been friends with, who pretty much turned almost psycho,” she said. “We called public safety and received barely any help,” she said.
“I actually had to go to the State Police to get a protection order against this person. I don’t feel as safe as I should.”
Castleton President David Wolk has been working diligently with Dean of Administration and Emergency Planning Group chairman Bill Allen to perfect an “Emergency Management Plan.” The plan is to be made available to students sometime this week and will help students understand what processes are being put in place to react to any such incidents on CSC ground.
“We can never accurately predict human behavior, but we can make our best efforts to prevent tragedy and to prepare and protect our community in the event of an emergency,” Wolk said at the event, sponsored by The Spartan.
Castleton plans to hold a commemorative memorial in honor of the lives lost at Virginia Tech. Details of the plan are expected to be announced shortly.