Question of the Week

April 16, 2007


By now you have heard about the shootings at Virginia Tech.

"BLACKSBURG, Va. - A gunman opened fire in a Virginia Tech dorm and then, two hours later, in a classroom across campus Monday, killing 32 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. The gunman was killed, bringing the death toll to 33, but it was unclear if he was shot by police or took his own life. ... The name of the gunman was not immediately released, and investigators offered no motive for the attack. It was not clear if the gunman was a student. ... The bloodbath took place at opposite sides of the 2,600-acre campus, beginning at about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a coed dormitory that houses 895 people, and continuing at least two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building about a half-mile away, authorities said. Police said they were still investigating the shooting at the dorm when they got word of gunfire at the classroom building. After the first shots were fired, students were warned to stay indoors and away from the windows. But some students said they thought the precautions had been lifted by the time the second burst of gunfire was heard..."
Daily Illini

At the time that I am writing this, these numbers are the most current numbers and are being reported by several sources.

There are the numbers, and then there are the people.

"Just two doors down from Norris Hall, where the majority of the victims were killed in Monday's shooting rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech University, Junior Tanner McKibben was huddled on the floor. McKibben was crouched alongside other students in a classroom in Pamplin Hall behind closed blinds, staring at a television and trying to get more information on the shootings. 'I was in the middle of class and I'd gotten word from people by text message that the early shooting happened. I thought only one person had been shot, so I continued on to class,' said McKibben, 21. 'But more people started coming in and saying there had been big shootings and then officials told us not to leave the room and to get away from the windows and close the blinds' ... When he got back to his apartment at around noon, he spoke to a friend who was in Norris during the rampage who said he'd seen people crying and running around in the building as word spread of the incident. 'The shooter didn't come in his room, but [my friend] said there were 10 people who came in the room crying and they said they saw a guy jump out of a third story window and break his leg, which made them think twice about jumping out the windows themselves,' McKibben said. ... A good friend of senior Lauren Petty was also in Norris during the shootings, and told her that he saw the shooter reloading his gun and preparing to open fire again. 'He [my friend] quickly closed the door and hid in a classroom and he luckily got away'..."

Students gained knowledge of what was happening on campus via word of mouth, text message, Internet, TV, and personal observation. They decided what to do based upon what they saw or heard each moment as it happened. They learned from the actions of others, and did what they could to save themselves.

Some jumped out of windows, others worked together to barricade doors. From the personal accounts by those who took these actions, they believe that they are alive today because these actions were taken.

The "What if?" questions will never be answered. They never are, but there will always be those who wonder.

"McKibben said he was angry that the communication on campus about the incident was not better. 'The worst part is that the first shooting happened between 7:15 and 7:30 and I was walking to class at 7:45 for a test at 8 and I had that class and then almost all of my 9 a.m. class before I heard anything,' he said. 'I heard local elementary schools were canceled before then and I was walking to class at 7:45 -- and who knows if that guy could have been around me?'"

This incident is currently being called the worst school shooting in U.S. history, as well as the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.

The 8th anniversary of the 1999 Columbine massacre will be this Friday, April 20, 2007.

For a list of "Major U.S. school shootings in the last 10 years," you can visit:,2933,266371,00.html

Columbine got the attention of the nation. Schools worked hard to make things safer and prepare for possibilities they had not previously considered.

"Friday, June 25, 2004
AFTER THE MASSACRE at Colorado's Columbine High School in 1999, police in Prince William County wisely devised an emergency plan to respond to gun threats in schools. So when a camouflage-clad 12-year-old appeared in Bull Run Middle School last Friday armed with two rifles and a shotgun, the police were ready, arriving on the scene swiftly, sweeping into the school and arresting the boy. Cool-headed teachers and staff alerted police, hustled students away from danger and kept their wits at a perilous moment. But the chilling fact remains that at least 10 minutes elapsed before the boy, who pointed a weapon at students, parents and school staff, was taken into custody -- 10 minutes in which he might have done unspeakable damage. No one should suppose his act was an aberration; this year alone there have been scores of incidents across the country in which high school students, and even grade school pupils, entered schools bearing firearms, often loaded."

Each day, somewhere in the United States, there are students in schools with guns.

Over the course of the 2001-2002 school year, 2,554 students were caught with a firearm at school nationwide.*

*Source: 2004 Report on the Implementation of the Gun-Free Schools Act in the States and Outlying As reported at:

This number only represents the number of students who were caught.

Thousands of students bring guns to school each year. Millions of children and teens have access to guns in their homes.

"More than a third (35%) of homes with children—that's 22 million children ages 18 and under in more than 11 million homes—had at least one firearm, found researchers in a RAND-UCLA study. But only 39% of these families keep their firearms locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 43% of these U.S. homes with children and guns reported keeping one or more firearms in an unlocked place and without a trigger lock. Nine percent keep their guns loaded as well as unlocked."

Whether the person with the gun is playing, showing off, feeling the need for self-defense, or intending to do harm, guns have the potential to wound or kill.

"April 11, 2007
A lawyer for a 15-year-old student charged in connection with a shooting at a Chicago high school said today the boy had found the gun and had no intention of 'doing something on the order of ... Columbine.' ... 'It was something that a 15-year-old boy found,' she said. ... Gore allegedly shot himself in the inner left thigh. The bullet traveled through his leg and struck a 14-year-old male classmate sitting next to him, Weber said. The bullet also traveled through the second boy's right thigh, according to Weber. ... Weber said that another classmate saw Gore with a gun before the start of their class."
Chicago Tribune

In this case, the student and his classmate were accidentally hurt. Fortunately, the wounds were not life-threatening, but they were still gunshot wounds.

Before the start of the class, the gun had been spotted by another student.

The "What if?" questions will never be answered. They never are.

That same day, in another part of the country:

"April 11, 2007
Fort Bend parents expressed concern about school safety on Wednesday after a student was arrested on a charge of possession of a handgun ... 'Apparently he had been showing it in earlier classes,' Newsome said. 'I guess whoever he showed it to brought it to the attention of the teachers and the principal and they came and got him'..."

In this case, the gun was reported before anyone got hurt.

"Being safe can keep kids, teens, and even adults from getting hurt. Many times, guns are fired by accident. All kids should know what to do if they find a gun or if they are with someone who finds a gun. ... A real gun is never a toy, and life is not a video game. Real guns use bullets that hit actual targets. If that target is an animal or a person, the bullet can rip through skin, muscles, bones, and organs, doing a lot of damage. A gunshot can permanently cripple someone or even kill. ... Most kids in gun accidents later say they didn't fire the gun intending to hurt anyone, yet someone got badly hurt. So never show a gun to a friend and never, ever point a gun at anyone - including yourself - even as a joke. You or your friend could end up in the hospital or worse."

Whether at school, at home, or visiting a friend, there are far too many reminders that real guns have real consequences.

"A 10-year-old boy is in an Edmonton hospital with serious injuries after being accidentally shot by another child. Bashaw RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] say the child was shot Thursday in a house near Donalda, southeast of Edmonton. They say the child and several others were playing when one of them found a loaded .22-calibre rifle, 'used for dispatching farm animals and predators,' the RCMP said in a release. ... 'Everyone is reminded of the need for safe firearm handling and storage practices. Even in the hands of experts, a firearm can produce deadly consequences,' Oakes said."

Guns exist. Millions of people (children, teens, and adults) have access to guns every day.

Each year in the United States, thousands die when a firearm is used with the intention of causing harm. Hundreds more die from accidental injuries caused by firearms.*

*Source: National Safety Council estimates based on data from National Center for Health Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau.

With the statistics being what they are, and with news reports streaming in, it can be difficult for parents and teachers to know what they can do. Just as difficult, if not more so, can be knowing how to help children and teens to deal with the news.

For children (as with anyone), the fear can be worsened by a sense of things being out of control. While this can be a tricky topic, millions of children as young as preschool are learning to take control of their lives and their safety if they see a gun.

"The Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program teaches children in pre-K through third grade four important steps to take if they find a gun. These steps are presented by the program's mascot, Eddie Eagle®, in an easy-to-remember format consisting of the following simple rules:
If you see a gun:
      ·Don't Touch.
      ·Leave the Area.
      ·Tell an Adult.
Begun in 1988, The Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program has reached more than 20 million children -- in all 50 states. This program was developed through the combined efforts of such qualified professionals as clinical psychologists, reading specialists, teachers, curriculum specialists, urban housing safety officials, and law enforcement personnel. ... The purpose of the Eddie Eagle Program isn't to teach whether guns are good or bad, but rather to promote the protection and safety of children. The program makes no value judgments about firearms, and no firearms are ever used in the program. Like swimming pools, electrical outlets, matchbooks and household poison, they're treated simply as a fact of everyday life. With firearms found in about half of all American households, it's a stance that makes sense. ... The Eddie Eagle Program has no agenda other than accident prevention -- ensuring that children stay safe should they encounter a gun."

At Virginia Tech, students used email, instant messaging, text messaging, and cell phones to warn others on campus -- and to let their parents know that they were okay. They worked together to barricade doors and flee the building through windows. They did all they could to stay alive and help others to do the same.

Children in preschool and early elementary are being taught that they can take control of themselves and keep themselves safe if they see a gun.

While these are very different situations involving varied ages and circumstances, there is a common thread. Knowing what to do in the presence of a gun (or gunfire) can make all the difference.

This was a tragic day. There were far too many deaths. We can be thankful for those who were saved, weep for those who were lost, and learn all that we can with the hope of making our schools (and our lives) safer places to be.

The "What if?" questions will never be answered. They never are.

Questions of the Week:
What can be learned from such a tragedy? What can people (teens, children, and adults) do to keep themselves as safe as possible in the presence of a gun? What modes of communication are used at your school if there is a threat? What lockdown procedures are in place? What should you know? How can information, preparation, and planning help students (as well as teachers and parents) cope when they see such a tragedy? What can you do to help?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site