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The Crime

It’s called suspension of disbelief. A tool of fiction writers, it is used to attempt to convince readers to accept as true most any premise put forward, no matter how strange. It was certainly in play Monday, April 16, 2007, but not caused by any work of fiction.

Over the years, I have written a few short works, mostly centered around imaginary football seasons or basketball tournaments. Intended as humor, they always ended under some sort of bizarre circumstances, with the game always continuing to be played. At various times, I have depicted an ACC championship basketball game held while the arena in Landover, Maryland burned down, another held while the Charlotte Coliseum sank and the funeral of a dead wife held during the ACC’s championship football game in Jacksonville. Those flights of fancy of mine pale in comparison when confronted with the real thing.

Monday morning I was around town attending to business when the radio informed me that there had been a shooting on the Virginia Tech campus. A couple of hours later I returned home for lunch and turned to both WDBJ television, my usual choice for local news and the Internet. By now, all should be aware of what I discovered.

The suspension of disbelief was connected to actual events. The surreal nature of watching activities on the Tech campus of which I have many fond memories was profound. It hasn’t gone away.

Buildings that were instantly recognizable were the backdrops for shots of armed police officers. A reporter for WDBJ was describing the scene while standing atop Chicken Hill, where the Clubhouse Tailgate was planning to gather this Saturday for the Spring Game, as we do each year. A television picture from the Drill Field showed a Virginia Tech police officer, a friend of our tailgate who often stops by for friendly conversation. He was running down the sidewalk in front of Burruss carrying an assault rifle.

My afternoon was spent watching the unfolding drama, both on television and my computer screen. This was not a high school in Colorado or a college campus in Texas. It was Virginia Tech, my school, a place where I spent many years as a student and visit several times each year for sporting events. It hits no closer to home.

As of this writing, little is known of the person who perpetrated the senseless killings at Tech, neither of him nor his motivations. Little is known of anything, other than thirty-three people are dead and a number of others wounded.

I mostly watched the episode on Channel 7, occasionally venturing to other news channels as the tragedy began to dominate all news outlets. The professionalism displayed by the entire News 7 team was impressive, especially compared to the utter lack of it displayed by CBS News anchor Katie Couric, who blew into Blacksburg seemingly determined to boost her miniscule ratings by leading a lynch mob after Tech president Dr. Steger.

I watched as a devastated Dr. Steger and Blacksburg Police Chief Wendell Flinchum faced a hostile press conference. Dead bodies were still lying in Norris Hall as the media jackals grilled the two men. People who have no more important decisions to make than the color of necktie to wear or shade of lip gloss hurled one antagonistic question after another at men who were tasked with making monumental ones in a very short period of time with very little information.

It was painful to watch Dr. Steger deal with the media onslaught. This is a very good man who was faced with the most horrific of all crimes having occurred on his campus, where he has spent his entire adult life. It seems likely that in the upcoming blame game, his administration will not survive.

Chief Flinchum is new to his job. I doubt very seriously that much of his training dealt with how to react when some nut shoots up the campus. There was also probably not a lot in how to react when some idiotic reporter questioned the ‘dispassionate nature’ he displayed, the demeanor that many of us regarded as the professionalism that was needed.

As this is being written, Dr. Steger is being interviewed on NBC’s Today show. He was again attempting to explain decisions made during the crisis. I admire Dr. Steger greatly and will engage in no after-the-fact complaining about his actions. I have no idea how I would have reacted had I been in his situation. I am very thankful I did not have to.

I also will not question actions taken by the various police agencies after the initial shooting in West AJ dorm. It does seem to me, however, that the person or persons who gave a false identification and, perhaps inadvertently, provided an excellent diversion by sending the police focus off campus as the shooter made his way in the opposite direction, have some explaining to do.

The criticism of the Tech administration and the Blacksburg police is intense and will likely become more so as the media looks to blame somebody other than the perpetrator, who cowardly took his own life after ending so many others.

These crimes were not the fault of any Tech official or police officer. They were not the fault of those that support the Second Amendment. They were not the fault of a society that somehow ‘failed’ the murderer. They were not the fault of any romantic interest of the shooter, either real or imagined.

The responsibility for this tragedy lies solely with the perpetrator. He was the one that, for reasons known only to him and that likely oozed onto the second floor of Norris along with his brains, knew why he did it. Provided he had no accomplices, it is his fault and no other’s. We would do well to bear that in mind over the very hard upcoming days, weeks and months.

We continue to deal with what has happened at Tech. As this sentence appears on my computer screen, the television news is listing the three faculty members killed. Suspension of disbelief deals with situations that are not real. Unfortunately, this is all too real.

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