Message Lost in Virginia Tech Chaos

Televisions buzzed with incoming reports of student and faculty fatalities with sound clips ranging from fired shots and piercing screams as Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University suffered the worst school shooting America has ever seen on Monday. A quiet hum of sadness lingered everywhere, a fierce anxiety and an awoken concern the nation had hoped to put to rest after the gruesome tragedies of Columbine. But the reality could not be denied.

And amid the whir of bustling reporters and coping civilians was a feverish desire to point the finger at someone still living, or find some trivial issue or self-concerned worry to distract people from the events. These petty concerns, however, highlighted a disappointing weakness on the part of some Americans this week.

At a time when yellow journalism was inappropriate, reporters in particular sought to heighten the drama by blaming police for the second shooting. During the afternoon press conference, many posed accusatory questions to campus police chief Wendell Flinchum as to why he and his office had not done more to lock down the campus, notify students or anticipate a second attack, which occurred two hours later. But with a campus of over 100 buildings and an airport that covers more – 2,600 acres total, according to the university Web site – the sheer manpower required to spread the word to its 26,000 students could have easily taken two hours to muster.

As for anticipation, no one anticipates tragedy of that degree. To predict where and when and who would suffer – these are impossibilities that reporters, who spend days, sometimes weeks or even months uncovering stories, should know better than to expect.

Surprisingly, however, the New York Post and the Chicago Sun-Times both ran editorials questioning the judgment of campus officials and asking for answers. Neither paper, however, offered any answers of their own.

But press conference reporters were not the only ones lacking judgment. CNN correspondent Jack Cafferty tarnished his journalistic integrity when he appeared on CNN’s “”The Situation Room”” with host Wolf Blitzer.

“”Here’s the question – what impact will the Virginia Tech shootings have, do you think, on future enrollment at that school?”” Cafferty said.

It was a profound blunder on his part to reduce the deaths of so many to a mere question of the university’s economic future. Rather, the real questions should have been the human ones. How do schools nationwide prevent more innocent lives from being lost? What should the nation do to support the Blacksburg, Va. community? Or what signs in classmates should prompt students to take action?

But still, non-press members raised petty problems. Virginia Tech tudent Jiyoun Yoo, from South Korea, told writer Andrea Hopkins she feared the event might cause a backlash against her ethnic group since the shooter, 23-year-old resident alien Cho Seung-Hui, was also South Korean.

Although Yoo was right to realize we are not immune to prejudice, crisis should not permit us to lose all confidence in our fellow students.

So before we turn to anger in this time of crisis – before we fear new fears – we must realize the perspective and the freshness of the wound. For now we focus on solutions, preventative measures and grieving what we vowed to make history.

Now is the time to build campus intercoms, run lock-down drills and uncover the warning signs that may help us stop future tragedies before they begin. For now there is no time for blame, only time for change. There is no time for any man to be an island, only time to come together.