In Memoriam: The Randomness of the Virginia Tech Tragedy

The mass shooting at Virginia Tech last week was senseless and horrific. There is nothing that can be said to explain it.A colleague of mine is the mother of a Virginia Tech student.

She speaks of hearing news reports of the unfolding drama last Monday and fearing for her son’s life. For hours she lived through her own personal hell as the telephone circuits were overloaded and she was unable to reach him.

Ultimately she got through, of course. To her great relief she learned that her son had been in his dorm at the time of the massacre working on a paper. He claims that he is fine. One wonders though if anyone at Virginia Tech that day is fine. Directly a victim or not, everyone on campus likely sustained some emotional scarring. The same applies to the parents and friends of victims and survivors.

My colleague flew to Blacksburg late last week to be with her son and to be among the thousands who gathered on Friday to honor the dead. Her description of the atmosphere at the school brings to mind the surreal suspended animation aspects of 911 and its aftermath. Shock. Somber reflection. The uneasy realization that anything can happen to anyone at any time, suddenly and without warning.

My faith tells me that things happen for a reason. Certainly it seems that more lessons are learned from tragedy than success. Attention is riveted for a time and we are forced to pause, to examine, and to value what we had formerly taken for granted. Virginia Tech illustrates the extreme consequences possible when mental illness and social alienation combine in rage. Perhaps, as a result of this tragedy, we will take new steps to be aware of, to protect ourselves from, and to help the mentally ill.

Even so, it is inescapably true that the random and the senseless are as much a part of the human experience as are order and reason. What the shooter did required a lot of planning and forethought. He wanted to be viewed as a martyr for a righteous cause and said he was dying as Jesus Christ did. No one short of deranged will see him that way. Nevertheless, within the framework of his own sick reality, he did meet his goal of garnering attention through death, destruction and disruption. He did it through his own willpower and effort. But he executed his will randomly.

In his manifesto, the shooter railed against the rich and the over-indulged. But, the victims were not necessarily either. They were from varied backgrounds and they were in class doing what they were supposed to be doing. On Monday, they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was no rhyme or reason.

After the tragedy the shooter’s family said, “he has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare.”

Randomness. Not just here but in all tragedy and in life in general. Reason, as a concept, does not exist without chaos. Light cannot be distinguished without darkness. Humanity is characterized by reason. Yet it is our fate to deal with the random.

My heart goes out to all the victims of the randomness. The 32 dead. Those surviving. Families. Friends. The family of the shooter, themselves victims.

The mass shooting at Virginia Tech last week was senseless and horrific. There is nothing that can be said to explain it.


~ by Tim Daniel on April 21, 2007.

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