Several locals on campus at VT shooting

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By Brandon Mattingly

The scene at Virginia Tech University last week was all too familiar to those who were with the college at the time of the 2007 shooting that claimed 33 lives.

On Thursday, a police officer was shot and killed during a routine stop on campus. The gunman later took his own life in a nearby parking lot. There are several Virginia Tech students and faculty members that have ties to Washington County, and some of them recalled how Thursday was a reminder of the tragedy that occurred on April 16, 2007.
“Campus around 4 p.m. Thursday (just after the alert was lifted) was still a very surreal experience,” said Crop & Soil Environmental Science professor and Washington County native Mike Goatley. “I dropped my colleagues off at the football stadium to see scores of satellite-equipped news vehicles, and officers equipped with full combat gear and AK-47s were still manning checkpoints around campus. Eerily similar to what I remember from that April 16 day.”
Bob Grider, Washington County High School’s valedictorian for the class of 2011, is a freshman at Virginia Tech. He said he was safe, but he wasn’t far from the terrible scene last week.
“The main shooting, which was where the police officer died, was about 100 yards from my dorm,” he said.
Grider said he was not aware of the incident at the time of the shooting, but he said he quickly heard the alert siren, and his resident advisor informed him that the entire campus was on lockdown. Everyone was told to lock their doors and not come out of their rooms for anything.
Martha Ann Stallings and her husband, Charles, left Washington County in 1974 and are now both professors at Virginia Tech, where they’ve been located since 1979.
“I was on campus near the location of the first shooting about an hour before it happened,” said Martha Ann Stallings, who works with the university’s Office of Ed Research & Outreach. “I went over to pick up some extra VT basketball tickets at a ticket office located at the Lane football stadium. It was very quiet and not many people around, it appeared. While I was out, I received an alert around 12:45 p.m. that said there had been a shooting and to stay at one’s location on campus, or not to enter campus.”
Stallings said her husband, who teaches dairy science at the college, was in lockdown at the conference center on campus, so she went home and followed the coverage of the incident on television. She said she received six alerts from the university throughout the evening updating her with the latest information on the situation. Virginia Tech was criticized for the amount of time it took them to respond to the 2007 incident, but many people have said the broadcasting of information was much timelier on Thursday.
“The university’s upgrades in emergency alert systems that have been implemented since the April 16 tragedy were obvious in how quickly information was distributed and how regularly it was updated,” Goatley said.
Social media provided the university with a method of communication that wasn’t available in 2007. The emergence of Twitter meant immediate updates for students and faculty who follow Virginia Tech’s Twitter feed.
“They have been on top of things,” Grider said. “I have a Twitter feed running with the major updates, and the official alert system is right there with them. They send out texts as well as e-mails with all the major updates.
Each person agreed that Virginia Tech is a quiet place, and a great place to be. However, the two shootings leave a very painful stain on Blacksburg, Va., as Stallings expressed.
“(This is a) very hard time for the Virginia Tech community.”