By Eugene Robinson
Don't try to make sense of the horrific killings at Virginia
Tech, at least not yet. Don't try to make those involved into
archetypes - the gun-wielding loner, the valiant young heroes, the
dithering college officials - and fit them into a familiar,
comfortable narrative. Don't rush to draw lessons about guns or
alienation or funding for mental health services. Not yet.
This shattered community hasn't even had time to learn what
happened, let alone why. It's understandable that authorities would
be cautious in releasing the names of the 32 students and faculty
members slaughtered by Cho Seung-hui, but the result is that every
student I've talked to has spent hours calling around and taking an
inventory of friends.
Students appear dazed and unbelieving. Unlike outsiders, they
don't enjoy the luxury of being able to look at the Big Picture.
They have to live in the here and now.
Monday night, student Philip Kempton was working his bellhop
shift at the Inn at Virginia Tech, part of a sprawling conference
and alumni center complex that has been given over to crisis
The alumni wing had been converted into a teeming media center;
the parking lots were filled with scores of satellite trucks.
Another part of the complex was being used for grief counseling,
and a steady flow of students streamed in to talk about what they
Kempton lives in West Ambler Johnston, the dormitory where the
first shooting took place. "I was just waking up, and I looked and
the place was surrounded by cop cars," said Kempton, who is from
Columbia, South Carolina, said, "I don't even know who in my dorm
He knew of one friend who had been wounded at Norris Hall, the
second and bloodier crime scene, but the injury was not serious.
"It's just unbelievable," he said. "I don't know how somebody could
do that. Blacksburg is a safe place. And to have Virginia Tech
known as the university that had a massacre, that's painful
Brad Johnson, a sophomore from Leesburg, Virginia, stopped me
Tuesday morning as I was walking across campus to take a look at
Norris Hall. He said "friends of friends" had been killed in Cho's
rampage, but no one he knew personally.
He said he had written a few words that might be appropriate for
someone to read at the convocation that afternoon, and he wanted to
know if I could point him to the right people to talk to. I was
sorry, but I couldn't. "It's probably too late anyway," he
The event was three hours away, President George W. Bush was
coming, anyone with authority was unreachable. I had to tell him
that yes, I thought it was too late, but I encouraged him to attend
the service anyway.
Norris Hall, a Gothic-looking classroom building near the center
of campus, was sealed off by a perimeter of yellow police tape that
fluttered like ribbon in the stiff breeze.
Near Harper Hall, the dormitory where Cho lived, freshman Timothy
Johnson was surrounded by a swarm of reporters and camera crews.
When Johnson, who also lived in Harper, disclosed that he
remembered Cho, the swarm became a self-replenishing horde.
The horde wanted to know what Cho was like, whether he had
friends, whether there was anything odd or strange about him.
Johnson, who is from Annandale, Virginia, told them that Cho was
just a guy he used to see in the hallway. As one group of reporters
finished their interrogations and wandered away, another group
pushed to the front and asked the same questions, to which Johnson
patiently gave the same answers: just a guy who lived in the
That's not a satisfying answer, because it doesn't advance the
story we're so anxious to tell ourselves.
We want this tragedy to prove something. We want it to fit some
recognizable template. We want it to make sense because, if there
is logic to what Cho Seung-hui did, then there should be a logical
way to keep such a thing from ever happening again.
An element of randomness and unpredictability is part of any
event. What if university officials had shut down the campus after
the first murders at West Ambler Johnston? Would Cho have been
caught? Or would he have gone off campus to a mall or a school and
found others to kill?
One reporter kept pressing Johnson. Was there anything, anything
at all, that was unusual about Cho?
Johnson deadpanned that anyone who would gun down dozens of
people in cold blood was obviously unusual.
(China Daily via Washington Post Writers Group
April 19, 2007)