Virginia Tech

I just saw the tape that the shooter sent to NBC. It’s dreadful. That poor child was insane.

Now, let’s think about this. He was 23, and a senior. There are two missing years there. His writings and his tape lean heavily on several things: stepfathers, being fucked, heavy and disturbing sexual and violent imagery.

Where has this child been? What was done to him? Who did it? Why is his family ‘requesting privacy’? Is there anyone in the world willing to take up *his* cause, after what he did? So far I hear CNN giving it the ‘inside the mind of a KILLER!!!!!’ treatment.

I want to know what happened to this kid to make him insane. There are children dead because of it.

About the responsibility of Virginia Tech for the killings: I worked at Unknown University for a long, long time, and I worked with several students who were – well, I could say seriously disturbed, but I’m going to be frank and say batshit insane.

Here are some of the ones I knew.

The Wolf Man wore a full-length black leather coat, black leather gloves, black-leather hat, dark glasses, and heavy beard, winter and summer, inside and outside. He carried a big black leather briefcase that he called ‘his life support system’.

The Wolf Man’s delusions were many, but the biggest one – the most difficult to deal with – was his insistence that he was handicapped in some unspecified way. He would ask people to fill out forms for him, then read them over (this didn’t win him any friends in the registration office, I can tell you – we didn’t like filling out grid forms any more than anybody else does). He would ask students to carry his books for him, ask people in the supermarket to pick things off the shelf for him, ask the cashier to empty his cart, ask people in the parking lot to put the bags in his car for him, then drive off.

He was a problem in class. He would come in late, make a big fuss of opening his briefcase and taking out his two tape recorders. One was for the class, and the other was for his own comments. He would ask bizarre questions, get into arguments, say “But I’m handicapped” when he lost them.

We were acutely aware of this guy. But he hadn’t done anything but be annoying in class. He had been reported to the Dean of Students’ office many times, and had been withdrawn from a few classes when it was clear that he had no connection with what was being taught.

And then he started following one of his instructors to the parking lot after class, and she brought charges, and he was banned from campus for a year.

He was also following girls at night on Main Street. One of them got fed up with it and called the police, who were familiar with him, and came and picked him up. When they towed his car, they found seventeen guns in it. Loaded guns. We had reliable information that they’d been there for years.

Then there was – I’ll call him John. John’s delusion was that he was a covert North Korean spy, that he’d been placed as an infant with his parents, who were from a nearby town. North Korean was beaming instructions into his head and beaming information out of it.

John was actually a decent student; he took mostly English courses and got Bs. You could hold a conversation wtih him, but it always led to North Korea. He wasn’t disruptive in class.

One day someone saw John on top of a bookshelf in the library, removing a ceiling tile. He told the kid he was removing the North Korean bugs so he could study there. The kid went to the front desk and told them; they were weary of John climbing the shelves, and they called Security. Security chased him through three floors of the library, out onto the Mall, and right through the textile majors’ annual fashion show. (That sounds funny, but it isn’t – it’s a big deal for those kids, and it was ruined.) They lost him somewhere on campus.

John was arrested in Baltimore that night. He had gotten on top of one of the buildings around the Inner Harbor, and was waiting for the helicoptors to pick him up and take him to Langley, to the CIA.

We never saw either the Wolf Man or John after they were ‘taken away’. One thing I remember is the difference in their parents. The Wolf Man was in his forties and his parents were elderly. When you called them, and said it was about the Wolf Man, they hung up. They had done all they could. They couldn’t bear it any longer.

John’s father was a well-known businessman in the nearby town. He reassured us that John was not from Korea; he was the child of his parents. And whenever John got into trouble, he was right there.

And there were others. There was one poor girl who was admitted into the theater program who had a mild case of cerebral palsy, heavy speech involvement. She couldn’t act – her speech was too poor – and she wasn’t physically capable of working behind the scenes. You can’t deny admission to someone because of physical problems. It’s illegal. You can break their heart later by asking them to resign.

And the suicides. Unknown University is surrounded by train tracks, Amtrak and Conrail. A Metroliner kills you quickly and efficiently. Maybe it makes more kids do it; it seemed like a lot. And car crashes when drunk – the kind that kill you, and the kind that my husband and I happened on ten seconds after it happened, that left two juniors with lifelong movement problems.

And the murders. Unknown University had a pretty notorious murder some years ago. The day after it happened, the administration building was full of people who would stop and stare, thinking “Oh, God, why didn’t she tell us? Why didn’t she ask for help?”

The important thing is this. There’s absolutely no problem that university administrators haven’t solved. Murder, abortion, pregnancy, incest, assault. Nothing. But teenagers think their problems are unique, and unsolvable, and they are terrible people, and they don’t ask for help. I cannot describe the awful grief that lays on the administration when a student dies senselessly, not just for the student, but because they feel they failed. If only they’d known, they should have known, what can we do to know before the next time?

And that’s how I feel about the Virginia Tech incident. Even though I’m not there, I’m not on campus: I should have known. How can we help, how can we stop this, how can we reach out and stop them before this happens again?

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1 Response to Virginia Tech

  1. janinsanfran says:

    My partner teaches ethics to freshmen at a university. She has had three (out of 80) kids come to her about feeling suicidal this semester — they come away to school, they are on their own, sometimes for the first time, they are under pressure to achieve. They lose it. So far the school counseling center has been some help.

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