To the point week of 4/19/07


YOU CAN’T MAKE SENSE OF IT. No matter how many reports you read or accounts you see, you just can’t find a way to make sense out of the tragedy that occurred on Monday morning at Virginia Tech University. As more and more people around the country found out about the shootings as Monday moved along, each of us tried to grasp some sort of reasoning as to why a person would do this.

The answer is, there is no reason.

There is probably no way that the shooting in the dormitory on Monday morning could have been avoided. Whether or not the multiple killings in the classroom building two hours later could have been avoided is something that will be debated for years.

As we know things now, a senior student named Cho Seung-Hui, walked into a dorm room and shot two people, then calmly went back to his own dorm room, where he left a rambling note that raged against women and “rich kids”, and then headed off to Norris Hall.

Why did he do it? We may never know for sure, but it really doesn’t matter why he did it – because he did do it.

I have been a member of the working news media for more than 20 years, and most of the time I am proud of the work that we do to keep people informed.

But Monday night as I watched and read reports, I couldn’t help but wish I wasn’t lumped in with all the others.

It’s a human response to look back after a situation is over and begin the process of asking “what if?”

“What if the university would have sent out an email to students right after it learned of the first shootings?”

“What if the university would have closed the campus and canceled the classes?”

“What if the campus police had believed this to be more than an isolated, domestic incident?”

I heard those questions and hundreds more, but all I could think about on Monday night was that everyone asking the questions had the benefit of hindsight. They could look back and see what happened, and then they could orchestrate their own response and plan.

And everyone would have been safe.

Or at least that’s what they believe.

I’ve had the opportunities over the years to be close to many events that are an emergency in nature. From drownings in the Ohio River to hit lists and bomb threats at the schools, I’ve been in the middle of those events.

But being in this small town, I also know the people who are charged with diffusing those events. I know law enforcement personnel like Nathan Hughes and Brian Morton and Stan Tressler and Steve Kinne.

I’ve been in an office with school superintendent Tracy Caddell and assistant superintendent Darin Gullion as they anguish over what decision to make – and if that decision is the right one.

You see, these people don’t have the luxury of being able to get in a time machine and move ahead 12 hours and see all of the outcomes, and then go back to the present and make decisions based on what they’ve learned.

They don’t have the time or the method, because they are knee deep in the situation as it is happening.

Right then.

As it’s happening.

Move everyone ahead to after the emergency is passed, and they may or may not make the same decisions. The problem is, decisions have to be made; and most of the time those split second decisions have to be made from the officer’s years of experience.

I couldn’t help but feel for the Virginia Tech University chief of police on Monday night. A female reporter looked him in the eye and said, “Do you think that had you closed the campus, you would have saved the lives of those 32 people who died in Norris Hall? Do you feel responsible for their deaths?”

What do you say to a question like that?

Does the reporter think that it was just another day on the job for that chief?

Don’t you think he laid awake all of Monday night – and is probably still awake – pondering that same question?

I believe that it is the duty of the press to report the news, to tell people what’s happening and give them as much reliable information as possible.

I don’t believe that it is the job of the media to create news and jump to conclusions and lead citizens to conclusions – the conclusions that the media wants them to come to.

We just saw evidence of this with the situation involving the Duke University lacrosse players. The district attorney wanted some time in the limelight; the university cut those men loose; and the media began a feeding frenzy that led everyone to think, “those rich kids raped that girl.”

The problem was, no one had any evidence, and now, more than a year after the horror began, the DA simply says “I’m sorry” and the university says “We’re sorry” and everyone thinks that life goes on.

But the lives of those three lacrosse players have been changed forever. They will always be linked to the charges. Their families are left with huge legal bills fighting a case that should have never been filed. All three left the university in disgrace.

And all the media says is “Oops. Missed that one.”

Don Imus found out that a national radio show is not a license to say whatever racial and bigoted junk that he chose to; but I bet that when the Rutgers University women’s basketball team hits the floor next year, those watching will be thinking of the slur that they endured.

“Oops, sorry.”

That’s not enough.

And it shouldn’t be at Virginia Tech, either.

The media needs to stop hunting for a scape goat and begin reporting the situation as it exists. Would people change their decisions if they could, having the luxury of hindsight? Perhaps, but they can’t, so let it go.

Attention needs to be paid to the families of those who perished on Monday. We can’t possibly identify with their grief, but we can stand ready to be whatever help they need.


Yes, if you were watching “Jeopardy!” on Tuesday night, that was Carol Tilley - our Carol Tilley – answering questions on national television.

Now living in Terre Haute, Carol did a great job, but missed out on a “Daily Double” question during the second portion of the show, and that caused her to fall too far behind to contend with the defending champion at the end of the game.

Judging from the number of phone calls that I received asking me if I was watching, it’s likely that a large number of Switzerland County residents watching the show on Tuesday.

Although she didn’t win, we’re still awfully proud of her.