My wife just came home and told me she canâ€™t bear to listen to the radio or watch television today.
Itâ€™s just too hard.
In the parking lot at a local Home Depot, she literally had to sit in the car a few minutes and compose herself before going into the store. She become emotional during the short drive listening to broadcasts of the services honoring the victims on this statewide day of mourning. While we didnâ€™t know any of the shooting victims, this story carries substantial personal significance to us because we live in Chantilly, Virginia, which is also home to the alleged gunman, Cho Seung-Hui. Technically we live in Centreville, but thatâ€™s more an issue of zip code than reality. My kids all go to Chantilly schools.
Cho and two of his victims attended nearby Westfields High School. My kids will all attend Chantilly High School. Despite the small difference in geography, kids from both high schools generally know each other well, having participated in youth sports, clubs and other extra curricular and community activities together.
The thing that upset my wife the most, given even the enormity of this tragedy, is the fact that this is yet one more in a string of terrifying and horrific events that our children and other families in this area have had grapple with over the past 6 years.
It started in March of 2001 with the shooting of local college student and former Chantilly High student Danny Petrole. Petrole, a good natured and popular local kid from a respected family was shot 9 times while sitting in his car in the driveway of his home in nearby Manassas. Turns out that Petrole was a major player in the suburban drug trade of marijuana and ecstasy. He was killed by a couple of local acquaintances in what police believe was some kind of drug related disagreement over money. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of marijuana and ex were found in Petroleâ€™s home, as well as thousands of dollars in cash. Not only is one local youth is dead, one is serving a life term in prison, and another is on Death Row awaiting exectution.
Shortly thereafter came the 9/11 tragedy that shook us all, as well as the long aftermath including the military actions in Afghanistan and the start of the second Gulf War.
Barely one year later the Washington area was terrorized by the DC Sniper shootings in which a man and a teenage boy went on a random killing spree spread over 23 days leaving 10 people dead and three others wounded.
Just last year, another Westfield High student, Michael Kennedy, went to the local police department, less than a mile from the school and opened fire, killing two police officers. Six months later 5 Amish school children were murdered in neighboring Pennsylvania, where we occasionally take our kids for weekend getaways.
The war in Iraq continues to lurk beneath the surface as friends, parents and neighbors continue to be called into duty whether in the military, government agency, law enforcement, or the private sector.
Now this. Itâ€™s hard to imagine how two kids from the same high school, the same neighborhoods and so close the to same age could go so far astray in committing these types of heinous crimes in such a relatively short time.
I heard someone say on the radio yesterday that Centreville will be forever stigmatized by these events. That perhaps people will leave the area and outsiders will wonder what kind of values we are instilling in our children, or perhaps even worse yet, that something is just simply wrong with us all.
As the father of three boys, two of which are teenagers, all I can only say is that we simply do the best we can. I wish there were concrete answers and facts. We do our best to teach our children right from wrong, to teach them love and respect for God and for each other, and put them on the path to becoming responsible adults. However, as parents, all we can do is show them the way. We canâ€™t live their lives and make all the choices. At some point kids have to make their own decisions about the friends they keep and the lives they choose to lead.
I see my friends and neighbors working hard and sacrificing to be a part of their childrenâ€™s lives. Iâ€™m proud of my community and happy where I live. This whole sequence of events leaves us all confused, troubled and sad for everyone affected.
I mourn for the victims today. Not only for the victims at Virginia Tech, but also for these other tragedies that have so affected and influenced our community. I also mourn for the Petrole family, the Kennedy family and the Cho family. One can only imagine the kind of grief, remorse, shame and internal self-examination they must undergo every single day as parents of children who have inflicted so much pain on others.
Today, we are All Hokies.