:: Elon community responds to Virginia Tech tragedy
Monday’s tragic Virginia Tech shootings shocked the nation, and the Elon community has responded in several ways.

Elon’s flag was lowered to half-staff Tuesday, and students and faculty members remembered the tragedy in a moment of silence at College Coffee, where President Leo Lambert said that there are times “when silence is more eloquent than words.”

Officials at Elon Community Church held a service Tuesday for community members to offer prayers to families of the victims, and the Elon University School of Law in Greensboro hosted a community gathering during lunch Wednesday.

Elon community members leave the Service of Prayer for the Virginia Tech Community, held at Elon Community Church Tuesday afternoon.
Community members were encouraged to sign a poster entitled “Elon loves Virginia Tech” that was placed in front of Freshens in Moseley Center Wednesday. The poster will be mailed to Virginia Tech Friday to show them Elon’s support.

At Elon, where 8.4 percent of the students come from Virginia, [the third most represented state of the student body], the events did not seem so far away.

Rex Waters, associate dean of student life, has a daughter who is a sophomore at Virginia Tech. Waters spoke with his daughter Monday on the phone.

“I feel blessed that she is safe,” Waters said. “Even though I had a concerned daughter on the end of the line, I am thankful that I had a daughter on the end of the line.”

Waters, a Virginia Tech graduate, was shocked at what he called a “tragic and unexpected” incident.

He was one of the hundreds of people at Elon who watched anxiously as the news unfolded on every television on campus, wondering if their loved ones had survived the event and hoping no one they knew would be grieving a loss.

Two Elon engineering students, Brad Austin and Chris Ross, are pursuing dual degrees with Virginia Tech. Both students are safe.

For Elon sophomore Catherine Culyba, of Fairfax Station, Va., tracking down all of her friends at Virginia Tech would not be easy, considering between 60 and 80 students from her class at Lake Braddock Secondary School currently attend the university.

Culyba was running out the door to student teach when she heard about the shootings from her suitemate. She immediately thought of her best friend, a student at Virginia Tech, and called her frantically.

“I almost went to Virginia Tech instead of Elon,” Culyba said. “I couldn’t help thinking, ‘that could have been me.’”

Slowly but thankfully, she learned that everyone she knew was safe.

“You hear of high school shootings and those are tragic,” Culyba said. “But college shootings are so widespread. Students are there from all over the country and it affects so many people.”

“What shocked me the most was the jump in the number of fatalities,” said junior Janus Rogerson, of Hertford. “At first it was 22, and in two hours it was 31. An hour later, it was up to 32.”

Busy signals on cell phones caused many students to turn to Facebook, allowing them to get in touch with their friends and siblings. The database is flooded with hundreds of new groups: Praying for Virginia Tech, God Bless Virginia Tech, In Loving Memory.

The Virginia Tech tragedy left many Elon students wondering about measures that could have been taken to prevent the incident.

“There isn’t as much diversity here as people think,” said sophomore Shannon Holland of Ohio. “So if someone is different, it could be especially difficult for them to feel like they are a part of the community.”

“We need to take the active stand instead of the reactive stand,” said senior Jennifer Hoffner, who was thankful that her friend at Virginia Tech was not a victim of the shootings.

Elon does provide counseling opportunities for students through student life professionals and religious life’s Truitt Center.

“Now is a time for us as a community to be vigilant, look after each other, and be cautious,” said Smith Jackson, vice president and dean of student life.

The university has an official emergency preparedness plan including 24-hour campus police service, a well-trained disaster response team, a healthcare service staff and lockdown protocol to abruptly secure all buildings on campus. Jackson sent a re-cap of the emergency measures to students and faculty, and it is also posted on the university’s information site, E-net.

“My heart goes out to all the people in Blacksburg,” Waters said, who has a special connection to the area. “It’s a big place, but it’s still very much a community. I know the people there will look out for each other.”

Reporter: Shelley Russell - Photos: Brittany Smith & Angie Lovelace 04/19/07