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14 Years After Virginia Tech Shooting, Gun Control Laws Changing

People hold candles in circle
In this Wednesday, April 16, 2008 file photo, students and mourners participate in a candlelight vigil marking the first anniversary of the April 16, 2007 shootings. Thirty-three people were killed on the Blacksburg campus, including the gunman. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP)

*Joi Bass reported this story

All this week, Virginia Tech will be commemorating the 32 students and faculty who were killed during the 2007 mass shooting. For the second year in a row, the event will be virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The week of events began with a digital exhibit titled “We Are Better Than We Think.” Selected exhibits include artwork and messages of hope and love sent to the university in the aftermath of the shooting.

On Friday, a ceremonial candle at the on-campus memorial will burn for 24 hours. Unlike prior years, there will be no public ceremony due to the pandemic. And starting Friday, the annual 3.2-mile “Run of Remembrance” will take place all weekend, also as a virtual event. Students are being asked to share photos from their self-paced runs with the hashtag #VT32Run.

Mark Owczarski, the assistant vice president of university relations, said  April 16 is very important to the university.

“We use that day, every year forever, to remember those 32 extraordinary precious lives, to remember those lives that were taken from us on that day in 2007,” Owczarski said.

The victims ranged from ages 18 to 76 and represented various academic areas, faith and ethnic groups.

Owczarski says these tragedies can impact anyone.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white, Christian or Muslim, agnostic, atheistic doesn’t matter,” Owczarski said. “You can be touched by these tragedies.”

Colin Goddard,  21 in 2007, was one of the 17 people physically injured during the shooting. Since that day, he and his father, Andrew Goddard, have pushed for gun violence prevention legislation.

Colin says the movement has grown, “and has been able to really become a sophisticated, strategic, coordinated effort amongst a variety of organizations and supporting institutions to make a meaningful impact on public awareness around this issue.”

His father Andrew currently serves as the legislative director of the Virginia Center for Public Safety.

Immediately following the shooting, Andrew says he knew the push for gun violence prevention legislation would be challenging.

“The only law in Virginia that passed  subsequent to Virginia Tech was the law pushed by the NRA, which would allow people with serious mental illness a much easier path to get their gun rights restored, that was the official response in Virginia to what happened at Virginia Tech,” Andrew said.

The father and son both agree progress has been made recently, but say work still needs to be done.

Andrew reflected on the passage of multiple bills that were passed last year and this year.

“Imagine playing a sport where you score 00000 for 12 straight years and then you get 38,” he said. And out of 12 proposals he said were good, “ "We passed eight of them. So it’s not been a steady increase in legislation. It’s just been a very dry spell and then suddenly a flood.”

Colin said resistance to legislative measures is significant.

“I had so many people who were supposed to be friends and allies say, I support this idea and this initiative, but don’t make me do that until I absolutely have to,” he said.

And of all the factors that prevent legislators from regulating guns, Colin says  fear of the political power of the National Rifle Association  has had an outsized role which is only now dwindling.

“People were still kind of stuck in the belief from decades before that the NRA was all powerful and that if you voted against them you would lose,” Colin said. “But that has crumbled now.”

In 2010, Colin Goddard produced the short film Living for 32. In the film, Goddard talks about how he survived and his continued advocacy for gun safety.

“It took an event that people had heard about or watched on the news and it told more of that detailed story, made it more real for people,” Colin said.

Colin graduated in 2008 with a degree in International Relations. He says all of the injured students were able to graduate.

“Some people literally crutched across the stage a few months later and others like myself, went back into the classroom and finished their studies and ultimately walked across the stage in the future and got their diplomas,” Colin said.

Colin says the psychological effects lingered, but he believes going back to classes helped him and others, and he thinks Tech provided the resources they needed to continue learning.

“When other students would come in late and burst into the classroom, or you’d hear somebody slamming a door, and your heart would jump. I would have a panic attack frankly in my chair,” he said. But, “We wanted to finish what we started, to get the degree from the school that we loved and we went to and be sure that happened.”

Owczarski says Virginia Tech has changed drastically since April 16, and gained a different perspective..

“I think we see it through our motto that I may serve, and that there were 32 people who sought to serve, they may have sought to serve as a teacher or they aspired to serve as whatever they were majoring in but they’re not able to and so we pick up their mantra and we go forward,” Owczarski said.

Poet Nikki Giovanni, a professor at the time, wrote a poem titled “We are Virginia Tech” and presented it at a convocation the day after the shooting.

In the poem, one particular line says “We are the Hokies and we will prevail.” Owczarski says the line was symbolic.

“I think everybody who heard it at that time was like how, what, impossible, but I think she planted a seed of hope and I think that seed grew for some, it may have taken years for it to grow,” Owczarski said.

Colin Goddard is now a husband and a father. He says April 16, 2007 changed his life and his perspective.

“The shooting helped reprioritize things, and it helped clear a path forward to engage myself personally and professionally into an activity I felt was really meaningful and contributed to society,” he said. “Trying to take the negative experience and put it towards something positive.”

The 32 Fallen Hokies
Ross A. Alameddine
Christopher James Bishop
Brian R. Bluhm
Ryan Christopher Clark
Austin Michelle Cloyd
Jocelyne Couture-Nowak
Kevin P. Granata
Matthew Gregory Gwaltney
Caitlin Millar Hammaren
Jeremy Michael Herbstritt
Rachel Elizabeth Hill
Emily Jane Hilscher
Jarrett Lee Lane
Matthew Joseph La Porte
Henry J. Lee (Henh Ly)
Liviu Librescu
G.V. Loganathan
Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan
Lauren Ashley McCain
Daniel Patrick O’Neil
Juan Ramon Ortiz-Ortiz
Minal Hiralal Panchal
Daniel Alejandro Perez Cueva
Erin Nicole Peterson
Michael Steven Pohle, Jr.
Julia Kathleen Pryde
Mary Karen Read
Reema Joseph Samaha
Waleed Mohamed Shaalan
Leslie Geraldine Sherman
Maxine Shelly Turner
Nicole Regina White

To read the biographies of the 32 fallen Hokies: https://www.weremember.vt.edu/biographies.html

.CORRECTION: We made an error in an earlier version of this headline. It is the 14th year since the shooting, not the 16th.