Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Mothers, fathers in Md. scramble to reach their kids on campus

The Baltimore Sun

Timothy Fowler answered the phone in his Mount Airy home early yesterday to hear his son Ryan, 19, saying he was safe.

There had been shootings at Virginia Tech. The situation was chaotic.

Timothy and MaryEllen Fowler got in their car and began driving to their son.

"My wife and I cried all the way down," Timothy Fowler said.

Last night, the Fowlers - including Ryan, a business major - were together thinking about families that had not been so lucky.

"Words cannot describe how my wife, our son and I feel at this time, and we feel so bad for the parents who lost their children in such a senseless act."

Around Maryland yesterday, anxious parents of Virginia Tech students were trying to reach their children.

For Ed Cannon, the e-mail came a few minutes after 10 a.m.

The simple message from a friend said a gunman had killed someone on the campus - enough information for Cannon, with his stomach churning, to pick up the phone and check on his son, Matthew, a senior at the school.

"My son was fine," said a relieved Cannon, a graduate of Virginia Tech who lives in Ellicott City and is president of the local alumni chapter.

Maryland sends more students to Virginia Tech than any other out-of-state school, including 386 student among this year's freshman class. Cannon says about 4,500 alumni live in the Baltimore area.

Lori Bert of Phoenix in Baltimore County said she immediately called her 21-year-old son, John, a junior business major and 2004 graduate of Loyola Blakefield High School. She was thrilled to wake him up at his off-campus apartment.

"Thank God I have a lazy boy," she said. "Once I found out he was fine, the feeling in my stomach was that some parents weren't going to have such a good outcome."

Thinking about a shooting last year near the Virginia Tech campus by an escaped inmate, she added: "I said, 'Thank you for letting me be so lucky again.'"

For Ann Hach of Towson, there were not one, but two children to worry about yesterday. Both her daughters - graduates of Notre Dame Prep - attend Virginia Tech.

She said her older daughter, Ashley, left cell phone messages that she and her sister were not injured.

"I feel so sad for them,"Hach said. "I'm happy they're OK. But my older daughter could have been in that building."

Ashley, 21, a junior civil engineering student, has classes on Tuesday at Norris Hall, where the second round of shootings took place.

Her sister, 19-year-old Claire, was leaving class when she was forced to return to her building and directed to a basement computer lab.

Authorities say the gunman opened fire about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a coed dormitory that houses close to 900 students. The gunman struck a second time nearly two hours later, leaving some parents like Cathy Aballo to wonder what campus security was doing in between.

"Why wasn't the campus shut down?" she asked.

Her son, Timothy, a sophomore at Virginia Tech who graduated from Centennial High School in Howard County, said he slept through the whole incident. Now he wants his school to return to normal as soon as possible.

"I hope they don't take any extreme security measures. I don't want our campus to turn into security central," he said. "I thought we had a low crime rate. It easily could happen any place. There is no way to take enough security measures to block that."

Meanwhile, other area parents fought to get through clogged telephone lines to check on their children.

Sam and Pam Wahbe's twin daughters are freshmen at Virginia Tech who had just returned to campus from a weekend visit home.

Pam Wahbe said one of her daughters, Sonia, called around 9 a.m. to say she and her sister were in their respective rooms. Sonia Wahbe lives in the same dorm where the shooting took place, but her mother says she did not hear anything.

The mother says she tried to call her daughters periodically through the day, but the calls wouldn't go through to their cell phones.

"One of the things we wanted to make sure is that we sent our kids someplace safe. Nothing too much happens down there. It's a little town," Wahbe said.

Wahbe said she has no hesitations about leaving her daughters in school. "I don't feel any different about it. It could happen anywhere," she said.

Brian Stricker, a vice president at an area life insurance company, was in his office when he heard about the shooting at the dorm. His son, Keith, a freshman and graduate of Mount Hebron High in Howard County, lives in that particular dorm but was already in the school's architecture building.

"My reaction was, 'Oh my God.' My initial feeling is I hope my son is safe," Stricker said. "I knew his cell phone number by heart. Had I not been able to get him, knowing the first killing took place in his dorm, I would have been tremendously panicked."

When Catie Hall, a senior at Virginia Tech, arrived on campus around 9 a.m. and saw ambulances and police cars, she called her mother in Maryland and asked her to look at the Internet to figure out what was going on.

Her mother, Harriet, said she found a posting on the university Web site that said, "Warning, shooter."

"So I asked her where she was. She was near her boyfriend's dorm. I said, 'Go in there.'

"I thought I sent her to a nice safe college down in the South."

Her daughter, who went to North Carroll High School, is still worried about friends she can't contact. There were so many cell phone calls in and out of the university yesterday, the mother said, that many of the calls weren't going through.

George Fallon of Baltimore was able to quickly reach his son, Michael, a freshman.

Fallon said his son described the scene from his dorm room across the way the location of the first shootings. He was listening to loudspeakers telling students to stay inside.

Right now, he said, his son isn't planning on leaving the school. "When the horror sets in, he may want to leave," Fallon said.

Brent Hooper, a senior at Archbishop Curley, heard about the shootings from his mother when he was at school. Hooper is slated to play soccer for Virginia Tech in the fall and will honor that commitment.

"I'm going there," Hooper said. "This doesn't make me second-guess anything."

Dr. Mark Midei, a cardiologist at St. Joseph's Medical Center, said his son, Matt, is scheduled to arrive in Blacksburg today after the junior biology major spent the semester studying in the Dominican Republic.

"There's a huge number of kids from Baltimore who go there," Midei said. "All of his friends are safe. It took him a while to locate everybody. He's got three roommates. The kids that he lives with are like family to us."

He said he was relieved his son, a graduate of Loyola Blakefield, which has about 30 students at Virginia Tech, and his friends were fine, but that the incident is scary to parents everywhere.

"It's horrifying to anybody," Midei said. "To hear about young life lost unnecessarily is horrible."

Today, the Fowlers will attend a memorial service to honor those who were killed or wounded.

"Its going to be one of the most emotional experiences we've ever had and it will be tough to get through it, but we will," Timothy Fowler said.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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