By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun
7:00 PM EST, December 8, 2011
Ellie Kavanagh had never been so happy to sleep through her alarm.
The Virginia Tech junior had planned to go for a morning workout at the campus gym on Thursday. But instead, she was in her apartment a few miles away when her computer screen went black and the public safety message popped up. Shots had been fired on campus. A gunman was on the loose.
Kavanagh, a Stoneleigh resident, was still in high school on April 16, 2007, when Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and himself in the deadliest campus shooting spree in American history. Her thoughts, like those of many others, turned to that massacre when news of Thursday's shooting began to spread via text alerts and tweets.
"Stuff like this happens everywhere, not just at Virginia Tech," Kavanagh said. "But given what happened on 4/16, it is kind of a big deal. I think it's unfortunate that people will say, 'Oh, people are so crazy at Virginia Tech.' I don't like that we're known for this."
Marylanders with ties to the university passed a nervous afternoon on Thursday, waiting for the threat to pass and reflecting on the unlikelihood of a second shooting at the campus many of them love. Though Virginia Tech is a five-hour drive from Baltimore, Marylanders represent the largest out-of-state contingent in the student body of 30,000. Alumni maintain active chapters in Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington.
Michele Shane of Baldwin felt immediately transported back to 2007 when her son, Matt, called Thursday to say he was safe. Matt Shane is a junior at Virginia Tech. His brother, Alan, was a freshman at the university four years ago.
"They just can't believe it's happening again," Michele Shane said as news spread that a police officer had been fatally shot during a routine traffic stop. "It's just such a beautiful place, so peaceful. It's disgusting that this has happened there."
She said her older son still refers to attending Virginia Tech as "the best decision he ever made" and that his brother loves it as well. "That's not going to change for either of them," she said. "It's a place that just sucks you in like nowhere I've ever been."
Students who were on campus Thursday described an eerie quiet while the gunman was at large and a lingering unease after normal activities resumed.
"I'm relieved in one sense, but it's confusing in another," said freshman Caleb Rittler, about an hour after school authorities said at 4:31 p.m. that the danger had passed. "It's still a little weird, because no one knows exactly what happened."
Rittler, a Towson resident, awoke in a friend's suite to the odd sight of people crowding around a television news report. He said that with the gunman reportedly at large, it was hard not to draw parallels to 2007, when Cho shot two people in a dormitory and disappeared for hours before killing again.
"I think we're realizing more and more how serious it is," Rittler said at about 3:30 p.m. "At first we thought it would blow over. But then it got to be more of a feeling of 'This is actually happening.'"
Like many parents, Shane felt university officials waited too long to lock down the campus during the 2007 shootings. But she said campus safety has come a long way. Within minutes of the reported shots on Thursday, text and e-mail alerts went out, warning students to stay put and giving a description of the suspect.
"I feel pretty safe," said Natalie Gardner, a senior from Towson who was locked down in the campus library. "Honestly, people are pretty calm."
She said that police were everywhere and that outside the building, the campus appeared empty of students. The first day of exams was scheduled for Friday, and Thursday was a study day, meaning no one was in class.
Memories of the 2007 killings were fresh when Gardner entered Virginia Tech, and she knew comparisons would fly when the news of another shooting broke. "But I've never heard anyone talk about it in the sense that it makes them nervous to be here," she said. "I love Virginia Tech. It's the best school."
Sue Naylor of Jacksonville, whose son, Kenny, is a sophomore at Virginia Tech, said her mind also flashed to 2007 when a co-worker texted her about the Thursday shooting.
"Oh, absolutely, it's the first thing you think of," she said. "But I'm not sorry that I sent him there, and I'm not thinking that Virginia Tech has anything to do with this. This is the world we live in."
Kavanagh predicted that the campus would pull together as it did after the 2007 shootings.
"This is just a really, really tight-knit campus," she said. "That's why I went here."
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