Va. Tech Survivor Plans Return To Campus

Virginia Tech students walk to class in Blacksburg, Va., Tuesday, April 24, 2007. Life is returning to normal on the Virginia Tech campus.
Colin Goddard does not know how he will feel when he returns to Virginia Tech and meets other victims of the April 16 massacre. He does not know how he will react when he steps into a classroom on Monday.

But as he stands in his parents' driveway, scrubbing the little car he'll soon fill with clean clothes, frozen pizzas and supplies, he knows he's not afraid to return to the Blacksburg campus where he was shot four times.

The lanky 21-year-old chats animatedly about seeing his frat buddies again, hitting the bars and planning a post-graduation backpacking trek through Europe. He feels excitement, not trepidation.

It's not that he doesn't think about the attack, he says. Every day he sees the bright red scars left by gunman Seung-Hui Cho's bullets. The leg where a metal rod supports his shattered femur still aches. Three bullets remain lodged in his body; doctors say it is easier to let them be.

But after a summer of volunteer work and climbing mountains, Goddard says he can put what happened in perspective.

"It could have been a lot worse, put it that way," he says. "I think that's why I'm kind of the way that I am, because I will be able to do everything that I was able to do before. There's nothing that is now impossible for me."

His childhood prepared him for change. His parents, devoted to humanitarian causes, moved often. Born in Kenya, Goddard was raised in Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt and Georgia. He chose Virginia Tech because of its military and technical programs, though he later switched to international studies.

He doesn't regret attending French class on April 16. After a late start that morning, he briefly considered playing hooky. But with the end of the school year looming, he chose to go.

Some say he was in the wrong place at the wrong time — a sentiment Goddard vehemently rejects.

"I was in my class on Monday morning where I was supposed to be," he says. "It was the right place to be at the right time."

He never saw Cho's face, and the killer never spoke a word. Goddard shut his eyes and tried to play dead. He remained silent as Cho shot him again and again. The gunman eventually killed himself as police closed in.

After his release from the hospital, Goddard spent a few weeks recovering in his off-campus apartment. In June, he returned to Norris Hall with a police officer to see the classroom. Doing so has taken away much of the anxiety he may have had about returning to class this year, he says.

He dived into physical therapy with the goal of being able to walk again in five weeks — just in time to leave for his trip to Madagascar with the aid group CARE International. A week before he left, he was off crutches and walking with a cane. A few weeks into his trip, he was walking on his own.

He can't wait to get back to playing intramural volleyball, football and soccer, though he wonders how good he'll be.

Sitting in his parent's living room, he sighs as he tries to answer the question he's asked himself so many times: Why did he survive Cho's bullets while 32 others did not?

"Some people say, `Oh, you had someone who was looking out for you that day,' or 'There was a reason that you were meant to live,' and I'm like, well, there were people that were killed all around me. A slight movement from here was alive and here is dead," he says, making the gesture of a gun with his hand.

"What happened, happened. And I'm here. And I really think it's just lucky. He had complete control. He had all the cards in his hand and when he put them down, I happened to be one of the lucky ones."

Goddard says he feels little anger toward the university. Or even toward Cho, though he still thinks about him.

He hopes he can start fresh and close a dark chapter in his life. He wants normalcy, though he knows things won't be the same.

He picks up a patchwork afghan sent as a gift after the shootings. The squares, knitted in his school colors of orange and maroon, were made by people all over the world and sewn together at a Blacksburg craft store.

He received countless letters and gifts from well-wishers. He wonders whether bringing them to school will remind him of the past and prevent him from moving toward the future.

But he'll pack the afghan, he says.

Blacksburg winters are cold. And he's going to need the warmth.