10 Years Later, Virginia Tech Instructor Recalls Her Students' Response To Tragedy

Apr 14, 2017
Originally published on April 14, 2017 11:22 am

Americans were once again forced to grapple with gun violence in schools when three people were killed in a murder-suicide in San Bernardino, Calif., on Monday, less than a week before the 10th anniversary of the nation's worst school shooting.

On the morning of April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a student at Virginia Tech, killed 32 students and teachers and wounded 17 others. Until last year's massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it was the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

Jane Vance, an instructor at Virginia Tech, recounts the first day back in the classroom after the tragedy with Lucinda Roy. Roy was head of the university's English department and had tutored the shooter, who was an English major.

"I came back into my classroom of 35 and expected maybe five students," Vance says. "But not one was missing. And they were still, like statues, until a young man named Patrick stood before the class, with his hair nicely combed and his shirt tucked in."

Vance says Patrick told the class that his sister, who was the worst wounded out of the 17 survivors, had a bullet next to her spine, and another in her French braid.

Then another student spoke up. Vance says Kristen told the class that her friend Caitlin, one of the victims, had been the only other person at Virginia Tech from her "little hometown."

And that was when Patrick finished Kristen's sentence: "Yes, Caitlin, she sat next to my sister. She died very quickly."

That was the information Kristen said she wanted to know.

"And the class rose spontaneously, hugged, and sat down," Vance says.

After the response of solidarity from the class, Vance says she asked her students, "Is it time for me to teach?"

They nodded, and class began again.

"That kindness in such young people changed me forever," Vance says.

Produced for Morning Edition by Von Diaz.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And it is time for StoryCorps. This Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the nation's worst school shooting. On the morning of April 16, 2007, a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 students and teachers. Until last year's massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, it was the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. At StoryCorps, Virginia Tech teacher Jane Vance talked about how her students came together in the aftermath of that shooting.

JANE VANCE: That first day that I came back to teach after the shooting, I came back in to my classroom of 35 and expected maybe five students. But not one was missing. And they were still, like statues, until a young man named Patrick (ph) stood before the class, with his hair nicely combed and his shirt tucked in. And in a wooden cadence full of kindness, he said, my sister is the worst wounded survivor. She has a bullet next to her spine. Another bullet was in her French braid. And a woman named Kristen (ph), who sat beside him, stood up and said, my friend Caitlin was the only other person at our big university from our little hometown. And then Patrick finished her sentence. Yes, Caitlin, she sat next to my sister. She died very quickly. And Kristen said, that's what I wanted to know. And the class rose spontaneously, hugged and sat down. And I said, is it time for me to teach? And they nodded. That kindness in such young people changed me forever.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS ZABRISKIE SONG, "NIRVANAVEVO")

GREENE: Virginia Tech teacher Jane Vance, talking to her friend Lucinda Roy in Roanoke, Va. Their interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.