December 8, 2011

I don’t want any more candlelight vigils or any more ceremonies in Cassell. I want Westboro Baptist Church and CNN and Fox news to leave us alone. I want Virginia Tech to fall under the radar, to be unknown.

I love this school, I love this town and corruption has muddied the reputation of the greatest school in the nation. It seems like graffiti, one plot spoiled with the disgust of aerosol paint and before long the entire surface is covered with the grime. Is murder the same? Have the most pitiful of humans come to some conclusion that this is alright because it happened once?

Ross Ashley came from Radford. He traveled here, to my campus, to my home, and killed one of the police officers that serves and upholds the law at my school.

Last year, Officer Deriek Crouse pulled me over on Alumni Mall. I had illegally parked for a moment to jump out and offer a struggling student a ride. The ride was turned down in gratitude, but the moment I jumped back in my car, I saw Officer Crouse turn his lights on behind me. He approached my car and compassionately discussed the issue with what I had done wrong. He asked me politely what I was doing and after hearing my story, kindly wished me a good day. I looked to my friend in the passenger seat and smiled at how polite of an encounter it was. Such a simple interaction would tie me to a man who would lose his life in an absurd act of inhumanity less than a year later. I would hear a story from a girl who witnessed his bloody body fall from his car.

Some people blow this off as something that happens in all locations, at all schools. “We just get so much negative press because of April 16,” they will say. Yes, that is the truth. But this is not normal. Yes, it happens at every school, but not with nearly this frequency. As a junior in high school I witnessed and mourned with the tragedy on April 16. A few months later as classes opened in August, the campus was put on lockdown as an escaped convict killed two in the Blacksburg area in his attempts to remain free.

My freshman year, I was standing outside the Graduate Life Center as I received a VT Alert text message on my phone warning me to stay away from that exact building and to move indoors. My friend and I were heading downtown for dinner but the night quickly turned from joy and excitement into management of nerves and fear. Inside a local restaurant, we discovered we were not the only ones looking for a safe house. We all stood by the door, waiting for the Virginia Tech Alert warning us of the reality of the situation. With the incident involving the loss of 33 Hokies only a year and a half earlier, we feared the worst.

Eventually we were informed the situation was under control, but not with any information on the incident. The next day we would discover a mentor to another graduate student had killed and decapitated a girl inside the Graduate Life Center and had simply waited for the police to arrive. The blow hit the campus hard but being a domestic crime, it never instilled fear in us. We more just recognized that it was a freak incident that could have happened anywhere.

A year later as I was beginning my hike on the Appalachian Trail I received a phone call from my mom asking me if I knew a guy named David who lived on my hall last year. I did, but I was too unwilling to accept that it was the David that lived just a few doors down from me my entire freshman year who had been murdered. David along with his girlfriend Heidi, both students of Virginia Tech, were murdered just off campus in Jefferson National Forest while out enjoying a beautiful day. I refused to believe it until I was able to see the articles myself. Using a library computer, I looked at a picture of David and Heidi next to the story of their deaths. Alone in central Maine, I remember talking to a near stranger about how I felt and her warm mother-like embrace. Just yesterday I rode by the site of those murders, reminiscing on the grim story.

Just two months after those murders, another one of my peers, Morgan Harrington, was abducted and brutally killed in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I thought we had escaped this until five days ago when the entire campus was put on lockdown with warnings of another shooting. Initially, there was no information and everyone scurried to discover the health and well being of all their friends. But before long we were informed of the reality of the situation and felt confident that the death toll was limited.

But what was the sense in this heinous crime? That is a question everyone, including myself has been asking. What was the motive? The logic? On Friday, after pondering the answer to this question for so long, I realized there is no answer. People say it is senseless violence. But is there really sensible violence? For us morally sound individuals, nothing can explain to us why someone murders another person. There is no explanation that can make me say, “Oh, so that’s why he did it.” The confusion will always be there and I will never be able to empathize with a murderer. Robbery is a simple action, one involving greed or necessity. Murder is always senseless and can never be justified. Asking myself the motive will get me nowhere because I will always conclude that it is never satisfactory logic to take a life.

But what does seem apparent is the logic behind the location of the action. Ross Ashley knows Virginia Tech, just like the rest of the world and anyone else who preys on our reputation. A Radford student, he chose to come here because it would have so much more of an impact. A murder in nearby Radford would skim the evening news. A shooting at Virginia Tech would ring the familiar bell that would sound around the world. And that, more than anything else, disgusts me.

That night I witnessed the most beautiful sky, wisps of blues streaking like half moons in the pink sky. As dusk came closer to night, I saw the flames burning on the horizon and imagined every Hokie was admiring the sky somewhere in Blacksburg and wondering about the irony of such enormous beauty to close a terribly morbid day.

I have seen a campus come together in mourning and I am proud of the bond that we all share in our infinite sadness. We have all been broken so many times now. I avoided the candlelight vigil on Friday because I know how they feel. The bond of a mourning community is beautiful but I cannot do it anymore. We have had too many, it is time for other schools to share the sadness. The school gathers the candles afterwards each time but I say we give them away. I say we stop anticipating this for fear of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It disgusts me the evil of vultures waiting for a disaster like this to prey on. Westboro Baptist Church scheduled to make another visit to Virginia Tech today to harass us. The funeral service for Officer Crouse was televised and media trucks lined the streets. Our football team is on its way to one of the Nation’s biggest games of the year but this tragedy detracts from their success. Researchers at this school are improving and saving lives while our engineers are developing more structurally profound bridges. Amazing things come from this small town every year but they are so overshadowed by humanity’s disgusting attraction to crime and hatred. This is the crap that makes the news because this is what humanity wants to see. I would rather be bored by Lindsay Lohan’s nonsense or with politicians on CSPAN.

I am tired, I really am. I love Virginia Tech and Blacksburg. This is my home, this is my family, and people keep messing with us. We have been tested so frequently and we react in the best way we know, coming together and knowing we do not mourn alone. In our numbers, we have strength and I know that I do not carry this despair alone. Deriek Crouse’s five kids will never see their dad again. My sorrow extends to the thought of how they felt on Thursday, the tears they shed, the whirlwind of thoughts flying through their head. When Officer Crouse applied to be with Virginia Tech Police, he probably envisioned it as a safe job where he would never have to worry about his family losing him. And now he is dead, along with 38 other Hokies who have been murdered in the past four and a half years.

I am surrounded. Thirty-two stones overlook my passing every single day. Freshman year I lived beneath the site of the first murder of those thirty-two. I drive or ride by the site of David and Heidi’s murders monthly. The cafe where the graduate student was killed is a frequent visit before my classes and I know I have stood where he sat waiting for police to come. And now, near the gym, the pool I visit almost daily, there rests a memorial of flowers for Officer Crouse.

I recognize now, though, that I must let go. I am not alone in feeling these sorrows. So with this post, I will mourn the deceased and try to see into the story of their lives. I will do everything I can to represent this school for the light it shines. We will never forget. But along with the rest of the Hokies, I do see that we must live. We can try to end this hatred with our compassion and love, with smiles and hugs. But we cannot control it and I am aware that this may not be the end. So long as there is corruption in this world, we will be challenged and there will be some casualties. Ross Ashley will be granted the attention by the infectious media. This all began with hatred and maybe a smile would have prevented it. Tonight, the sadness and hatred eternally translates into pride and smiles and maybe, just maybe all this hatred ends. These were my thoughts and my sorrows, but with their transition to words, I will be free of their hold. Rest in peace Officer Crouse.

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