George Mason Law School

Preventing another tragedy

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April 25, 2007

2:01 AM

The shootings at Virginia Tech last Monday, April 16, could have happened anywhere. Indeed, they have, as a brutal legacy of serial killers and mass murderers pervades our nation’s history. During my weekend stay at the University of Virginia, I read an interesting article in The Hook, a campus magazine. In the article, Hawes Spencer traces the history of school shootings in our country, from Charles Whitman’s massacre at the University of Texas in 1966, to Kent State in 1970, to San Ysidro in 1984, to Luby’s Cafeteria in 1991. It wasn’t until the later ’90s that school shootings mushroomed, taking on ‘epidemic’ proportions (Moses Lake, Wash.; Pearl, Miss.; Paducah, Ky.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Columbine, Colo.), culminating with the apocalyptic Tech tragedy that brought to the surface residual feelings of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina.

p. This column isn’t asking why America has a problem with violence more than any other place in the world (Michael Moore addressed this a while back). Gun or no gun, I’m not sure bloodbaths of such a large scale can be prevented entirely.

p. It isn’t enough to react after the fact (although the College has been quick to console students here and in Blacksburg alike with candlelight vigils, the Facebook phenomenon, the donations, the fundraisers and the awe-inspiring Orange and Maroon Effect). There are smart ways to go about preventing a college shooting.

p. For starters, school massacres are usually methodically planned out. If the culprit lives on campus, it should be the responsibility of the entire university body — students, faculty, police — to pick up on any hints or gestures of such plotting. If the culprit broods over the idea of murder for months at a time, eventually these festering thoughts will consume him or her entirely, manifesting themselves in his or her actions, expressions and overall habits. Cho Seung-Hui was known (or rather, unknown) as a “loner;” CNN reported that Cho’s creative writing teacher detected a threat beneath the surface of his writings, which could be described as incendiary rants laced with references to sexual abuse. Cho’s condition appears to have taken a pathological one. In the video shown on TV, he is hauntingly remorseless. From his deluded perspective he aligns himself with Jesus Christ, with whom he feels he can relate.

p. No campus is too large to afford a shooting. We can’t afford to let this happen. What I would say is this: listen up. As a community, we need to come together and leave nobody out. Such solidarity as is seen in wake of tragedy strengthens community ties, builds friendships and promotes social order.

p. By nature, students at the College tend to be reclusive, making it harder to tell the shy guy from the psychopath. We should do something about that. I invite everyone on campus to try and know your neighbor better. It’s a little sad to think Cho felt alienated or removed from his university. I mean, these were supposed to be the best days of his life. Granted, I don’t know his mental state, but it scares me to think this could have been prevented if only somebody talked to him once in a while.

p. I invite all of you to make a new friend or come to know a vague acquaintance better before the semester closes. I’m not talking “Facebook friends” either; I’m talking about that real, human-to-human connection. Professors should get involved, too — our classes are small enough for students to have a one-on-one relationship with their teachers.

p. I think the College does a good enough job confronting issues of victimization, but maybe we could do more. If you feel you’ve been victimized in any way, tell someone: seek counseling or do something to get help. There’s no reason not to.

p. __Sherif Abdelkarim, a sophomore at the College, is a staff columnist. His columns appear on Tuesdays.__

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