I didn’t hear about the Virginia Tech shootings until many hours after most people had. It’s production week here at the Advocate, and that tends to put us in our own little world. When a coworker told me what was going on, my reaction was strangely flat, numb. She wanted to talk about it, and I had nothing to say.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when I sat down at my computer and started reading the reports and watching videos that I realized why I’d been so reluctant to even think about what was going on at Virginia Tech.

I moved to Dallas from Denver in 2001. There, I’d worked as a designer at the Rocky Mountain News and was at work when my managing editor heard the first reports of the Columbine shootings coming over the police scanner. She was standing behind me and while I can’t remember what she said, it was clear from her voice that a big story was breaking.

I don’t remember much of the next few days. I have no memory of even going home during that time, though I know I did at the end of some very long days.

What I do remember are the faces of the reporters and, to a greater extent, the photographers coming back from the scene. I knew from the look in their eyes that whatever was on their film was forever seared into their memory. The hard line to their mouths clearly conveyed that they didn’t want to talk about it.
I remember working through tears for much of those first few days. I remember how we all shut up and quit our bitching and just worked our butts off — a near miracle in a newsroom. Knowing how much hurt was in that big room filled with hardened, cynical newspaper folks made me wonder how the fresh-faced high school kids I saw on the news could be dealing with so much worse.

It’s eight years later tomorrow, and I still can’t talk about Columbine without tears. When I heard that the killer, Cho Seung Hui, had identified with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, calling them “martyrs,” it made me ill. These three certainly have evil in common, yet they clearly experienced a lot of hurt, too.

Kurt Vonnegut died the week before this happened. I’m not a fan of his books so much as his philosophy on life, much of which preached simple kindness. There’s obviously no uncomplicated solution to avoiding horrific events like these, but maybe we could all stand to take a page from Vonnegut. A great quote of his, in which he rhetorically introduced newborns into the world, ended thusly: “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies: God damn it, you’ve got to be kind."

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