Such sad news today at Virginia Tech and I'm sure there will be more questions than answers in the days ahead. Today's events reminded me of a similar incident that occurred at my school when I was in college.
In 1996 at Johns Hopkins, Rex Chao was killed after being elected the President of the College Republicans. The shooter was his predecessor and former friend Bob Harwood. I heard the shot that night and the memory is still as clear as if it happened the other day. That evening I was on the phone with my sister in my dorm room that overlooked the beach, which is what we called the grassy area in front of the library. While on the phone I heard a loud pop and commented to my sister, who was also a student at Hopkins, that I heard what I thought was a gunshot. Her response was that it was probably just a car backfiring because who would believe that something like this would happen at your school. A place that is supposed to be about learning and growing as you make your way into becoming a full fledged member of adulthood. Where your parents pay a lot of money under the assumption you'll be safe. Even though we were in the middle of Baltimore, a city with one of the nation's highest murder rates at the time, I never would have dreamt something like that could happen.
Not long after I made the comment on the phone, the sound of sirens filled the air and the night was filled with flashing lights. Sadly, what I heard was a gunshot and even more shocking I knew the shooter.
Bob was a friends with my sister and a roommate of one of her good friends. He was two years ahead of me so I didn't know him real well. My only experiences with him were in Rhode Island politics as we were both from the smallest state in the country. I had been working with the Lincoln Almond gubernatorial campaign in the summer of 1994 prior to starting my freshman year of college. We had run into each other at some functions including the Republican convention where Lincoln was officially named the Republican candidate after a surprising upset in the primary. Now, before all my liberal friends here in Seattle start disparaging me for participating in a Republican convention I must point out that New England politics are different than politics elsewhere in the country. Also, Gov. Almond was a protege of the late Sen. John Chaffee who was a well known moderate and was probably more liberal than a number of Democrats, past and present.
On election night in 1994, I got a call in my dorm room from Bob congratulating me on Lincoln Almond's victory that night. I thanked him and we chatted a little while about a hard fought campaign before ending the call and getting back to studying. That was the last time I remember talking to him and didn't really think about him until that April night almost a year and a half later.
None of us could really believe what was happening and the internet was as omnipresent as it is these days so we couldn't just go to msnbc.com to find the latest news. Slowly, throughout the night, the details emerged. There was a shooting after a meeting. After the College Republicans meeting. Someone was hurt. That person was dead. He was just elected the president of the College Republicans. His name was Rex Chao. His shooter was a senior that had graduated early and come back for the election. He was caught by security shortly after it happened. His name was Bob. Bob Harwood.
That's when it became more than just a story on the 11 o'clock news. The sound of the gunshot, the sirens, the flashing lights, that wasn't something on TV or in a movie. It happened outside my window and someone I knew was involved.
On my way to class the next morning I passed the spot where this tragic incident happened. The area was taped off and there on the asphalt was a small pool of blood. Just the sight of that made it even more real and knocked the wind out of me. I continued to class saying a silent prayer for Rex and for Bob.
Over the days and months there were memorials for Rex and outrage that something like this could happen. A statue was built to commemorate a life cut short by someone whose life was now to be spent behind bars.
A few years back I was in Berkeley for Thanksgiving with my sister and her friend that was Bob's roommate joined us. He gave us an update on how Bob was doing in prison and how he had grown a beard and wore dark glasses to seem tougher and not to get into trouble if someone thought he was looking at them funny. They talked about their memories of him and we all said how tragic it all was. Two promising young men who would never have an opportunity to realise their dreams or potential.
Eleven years later and it just seems things have gotten worse. When I first heard about the shootings at Virginia Tech this morning on my way to work, the first thing out of my mouth was, "Not another shooting. Seems like there's one every week." I don't know what the answer is, but I do know an incident like this affects so many people. As time goes on, we move on...but we're never the same.