Solidarity the result of Va. Tech tragedy

A lily was placed under a plaque that is part of the memorial to the April 16, 2007 shooting victims on the campus of Virginia Tech.

Some local Virginia Tech alumni are still coming to grips with the horrific killings on the campus that claimed the lives of 32 people a year ago today.

If anything good has come from the tragedy, it's that the Hokie community has been brought closer together, they said.

Class of 2001 member Scott Beman said his feelings were difficult to put into words. "It's still hard to put in perspective," he said. "Nothing can really prepare you for that. It's so far beyond the realm of what you would expect on a college campus. You never expect that society could make someone that angry," he said.

Beman, security director for a Daniel Island firm, disagrees with those who suggest allowing guns on campus for protection. That's the role of law enforcement, he said. He supports extensive background checks for gun ownership that involve more than determining whether an applicant has a criminal history.

"I'm a gun owner. I use them to hunt," Beman said.

Seung-Hui Cho, a mentally disturbed student, killed 32 victims and wounded two dozen others at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, before committing suicide. He killed two people in a dormitory, then killed an additional 30 more than two hours later in a classroom building before taking his own life. University officials have been criticized for waiting about two hours before informing students and employees about the first shootings, which police initially thought were an act of domestic violence.

Charleston School of Law first-year student Rebecca Hampton was a senior at Virginia Tech when the shootings happened. "The tragedy on campus definitely has shaped my year. I definitely have been much more emotional about it as the anniversary is approaching," Hampton said.

The terrifying event claimed the life of her friend and fellow student, Ryan Clark. It also dampened the joy of receiving her diploma. "My graduation was more of a memorial ceremony. A sense of closure was never present for the Class of 2007," she said.

She will be among 30 people dressed in black and wearing a Virginia Tech ribbon around their necks who will gather at 11 a.m. today at Marion Square to honor the memory of those who died in the tragedy. The group, Protest Easy Guns, campaigns for stricter gun laws. "An organization like this also is therapeutic for me," Hampton said.

The event is among 80 "Lie-Ins" in 34 states happening today. Participants will lie on the ground for three minutes to draw attention to the issue. "That's the length of time it takes to purchase a gun in this country," said local organizer Sallie Duell. She said anyone can participate in the event.

A silent majority supports stricter gun laws, she said. "I think (Wednesday) is a significant beginning for those voices," she said.

Charleston resident Elaine Jarrett's son, Paul Jarrett, was a sophomore at Virginia Tech when the shooting happened. "I don't live in fear of my child being at Virginia Tech. We don't live like that," she said. She relies on her Christian faith. "There's so much evil everywhere going on. You can't dwell on it," she said. She thinks it's appropriate to mark the first anniversary of the killings.

The Virginia Tech Alumni Association will hold a "VT Remembers" blood drive from noon to 7 p.m. today in the gym at Mount Pleasant Town Hall, 100 Ann Edwards Lane, said Kara Franke, a 2003 graduate. "I don't think that there's any way to really put something like that in perspective. We've come together as a community," she said.

Cho had been ruled a danger to himself during a court commitment hearing in 2005 and was ordered to receive outpatient mental health care, but never received treatment.

Most families of victims of the mass shooting have agreed to an $11 million state settlement that will compensate families who lost loved ones, pay survivors' medical costs and avoid a court battle over whether anyone besides the gunman was to blame.