BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Ten years after a mentally ill student fatally shot 32 people at Virginia Tech, survivors and families of the slain are returning to campus to honor the lives that were lost that day.
Virginia Tech is holding a series of events Sunday to mark the anniversary of the deadly campus shooting on April 16, 2007. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine will be among the 10,000 to 20,000 people expected at the Blacksburg campus for the solemn occasion.
Kaine, who was governor at the time of the shooting, said he still vividly remembers the horrors of that day, but has also grown close to many of the survivors and the victims’ families. “We’re going with a lot of different emotions, but we wouldn’t be anywhere else,” said Kaine, who is attending the service with his wife, Anne Holton.
The shooting at Virginia Tech was, at the time, the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history. A massacre that claimed 49 lives at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub surpassed it last year. It forced schools across the country to rethink campus security and reignited the debate over gun control that rages to this day.
Sunday’s events include a wreath-laying ceremony around 9:43 a.m. -- the time when Seung-Hui Cho’s rampage in Norris Hall began. It will be followed by a commemoration event featuring remarks from Kaine and a reading of the names and biographies of the 32 slain students and faculty members.
Later, students, faculty and visitors will gather for a candlelight vigil. At 11:59 p.m., a candle at the April 16 memorial that was lit at midnight will be extinguished and carried into Burruss Hall. The events were planned by current students over the last 18 months, said Mark Owczarski, a Virginia Tech spokesman.
Leading up the anniversary, the atmosphere on campus has been one of reflection and remembrance, Owczarski said. Most of the current students were in elementary school when the shooting occurred, but understand that the “tragedy is part of Virginia Tech,” he said. Counselors have been stationed at commemoration events throughout the weekend to provide support.
“It is together -- as a community -- that we endure difficult times,” Tech President Tim Sands said in a recent email to students and staff.
Dave McCain wasn’t too concerned when he first heard about the shooting in an engineering building -- his daughter Lauren was an International Studies major. But when he and his wife realized her German class was in the same building, they drove straight to campus, not knowing that Lauren had been killed.
“One of the things that my wife had prayed for was that if one of our children were to die, that they wouldn’t suffer and they wouldn’t hurt and it would be quick,” McCain told CBS affiliate WTKR. “She was shot twice in the neck and died instantly.”
McCain said that one of his daughter’s classmates who survived the shooting told him something else that helped the family cope with their loss.
“Right before the guy came into the room, someone had cracked a joke and they were all laughing,” he told the station. “So she was laughing, she would have looked away and would have never seen it. She wasn’t scared and she didn’t suffer. She is laughing here on the Earth and then she is in eternity with her lord. That is a good way.”
McCain is a member of the Hogs 4 Hokies motorcycle group that raises money with the goal of endowing 32 scholarships for future students. “It is going to provide 32 scholarships for as long as Virginia Tech exists. Once they are endowed they are done its forever,” he said.