The scene seemed all too familiar.
Millions of Americans burrowed in their homes to follow the breaking news of another tragedy. It might as well have been Sept. 11, 2001, or the shootings at Columbine or a space shuttle crashing to the earth in a hailstorm of twisted metal and shattered dreams. But it wasn’t. No, this was a horrifying shooting at Virginia Tech University, and it should stand as its own nightmare — just as the others deserve their own solemn remembrances.
And, just as happened in the other ghastly moments, talking heads on television began to look for scapegoats.
As the school president and interim police chief were answering questions on Monday night about a horrendous day that saw 33 people killed by gunshots on their campus, the queries began to center on why the school didn’t lock down the campus until the alleged gunman was identified after the initial shooting, and why students weren’t notified timely enough that there was a dangerous situation on campus and why the response by campus police wasn’t more swift.
Maybe, just maybe, all this was the shooter’s fault.
All available information appears to point to Cho Seung-Hui, 23, as the person responsible for all this carnage. That is who is believed to have pulled the trigger and taken all these lives. That is who is alleged to have caused this nightmare. Not the campus president, not the police chief, not watching too much MTV and not the gun dealer who sold him a weapon allegedly used in the assault.
One person. That’s who is to blame, if the information continues to point in his direction.
Should Virginia Tech have locked down the campus after the initial shootings in a dorm room, thus sparing all those lives that were lost about two hours later? In retrospect, absolutely. But the administrators and law enforcement officers felt at the time that the first shooting was an isolated incident. That was the information available to them at that time.
And, regardless, they did not go around pulling triggers on innocent students and teachers. Nor did they act recklessly and put the people on their campus at risk for any selfish reasons. They knew what they knew, and they responded.
Get off their backs.
This is yet another example of people dismissing personal responsibility. If someone commits a crime, we immediately point to a rough childhood, or cultural differences or the collective hardening of our hearts due to the music or television we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Maybe Cho Seung-Hui came from a broken family, or had a hard time adapting to American culture or watched too many episodes of “24” — lots of people have those stories.
But not all of them shoot up a bunch of innocent people. And not all of them are sociopaths.
Save your anger and sociological rhetoric for who deserves it — the individual who cut short the lives of talented, bright students and dedicated teachers because he chose to take that path. One person caused all this heartache, and one person should be vilified for it.
Do we use the lessons from this tragedy to improve emergency responses across the nation in schools, office buildings and other sites of violent outbursts? You bet we do. Each time any of us have weaknesses exploited we should take the time to shore them up to do our best to prevent it from ever happening again. But we have to look at this as the senseless act of heartless and cowardly violence that it was.
One man. One target of blame.
A day will not go by in the lives of Virginia Tech officials or law enforcement personnel where they don’t think back to April 16 with a heavy heart and a ton of “what-ifs.” That’s human nature. We all wonder what we could have done differently to secure a rosier outcome when things go bad.
But that doesn’t mean we were at fault. It simply implies that maybe we could have done something in advance, or in response, to alter the chain of events.
There was nobody at fault in this ordeal other than the shooter. Yes, if it was indeed Cho Seung-Hui who committed these atrocities, then he is dead, and we can no longer get our “pound of flesh” from him.
But, sometimes, that’s how it happens. It doesn’t mean we should dump the blame on someone else just to make us feel better. Nobody wants that weight.