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For Emily Ragsdale, the Virginia Tech shootings are hard to talk about.
The 2010 VT graduate was in her dorm when the tragedy happened 10 years ago. Ragsdale, then a freshman majoring in public and urban affairs, had just left her 8 a.m. class, near where the shootings occurred.
“It was a terrible tragedy and it was really hard on everyone,” said Ragsdale, facilities and services planner with Danville Parks and Recreation.
Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg before taking his own life on April 16, 2007. He was a senior, majoring in English.
The horrific event brought the entire Hokie Nation together, Ragsdale said.
Local officials and Virginia Tech alumni and fans gathered at the JTI Fountain Monday morning for a public remembrance service for the victims of the shootings. About 50 to 60 people attended the event – most dressed in the school’s colors of burnt orange and Chicago maroon.
Pat Daniel, who graduated in 1979, organized the ceremony after Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands asked that victims be commemorated.
“I took the challenge on because we need to be serious about this,” Daniel said, adding she wanted to honor those who died. “The Danville Hokie Nation has come together in order to commemorate this loss.”
Daniel pointed out the school’s motto, Ut Prosim, meaning “that I may serve,” and said she hopes to have commemorations in the future.
Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, spoke during the ceremony, reading part of poet Nikki Giovanni’s “We are Virginia Tech” convocation address from April 17, 2007, and urging everyone to keep those affected by the tragedy in their prayers.
Danville Mayor John Gilstrap said he remembered where he was when it happened.
“I was in the foyer of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research,” Gilstrap said during his speech. “‘What did they just say?’ I did not believe my ears. How could this happen, period, much less at the university that the institute had such a close relationship?”
The incident didn’t occur at a campus in a city in another part of the country, he pointed out.
“This tragedy took place in our own backyard – on the grounds of the Hokie Nation campus,” he said.
The lives taken that day were those of students and faculty who – as Pat Daniel said – “were at the top of their game,” Gilstrap said.
“They personified great promise and great accomplishment,” Gilstrap said.
Chatham businessman Ben Davenport Jr., a 1964 VT graduate, recalled that he was serving on the university’s Board of Visitors when the shootings happened. He received a call from his wife telling him about the incident.
“I got in my car and drove to Blacksburg,” Davenport said.
The victims were a cross-section of our nation and the world, Davenport said, before reading Giovanni’s convocation address from 10 years ago. “We will prevail, we will prevail, we will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.”
Kenny Lewis, who played football for Virginia Tech and the New York Jets, gave the prayer during the ceremony. His son was attending VT at the time and was in a building next to where shootings took place, Lewis said. His son had no idea what was going on, he said.
Virginia Tech alumni Chuck Vipperman and Fred Shanks read the names of the 32 victims — all “wonderful souls,” Vipperman said. He encouraged attendees to go online and learn about them.
The event included the ringing of a small brass bell 32 times and a balloon release.
Shanks, a city councilman and a 1982 Virginia Tech graduate, told the Danville Register & Bee after the event he had studied hydraulic engineering under one of the professors killed in the shootings – G.V. Loganathan, a civil and environmental engineering professor.
“He was a young and energetic professor when I was in school,” Shanks said, adding he was stunned when he heard about the shootings and Loganathan’s death.
The tragedy was especially emotional for Shanks, who grew up visiting Blacksburg because his father was from there.
“It [the shootings] was one of those moments like 9/11 where everybody knows where they were and what they were doing,” Shanks said.
Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee.
John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 791-7987.