Former Iraq Embed Says Virginia Shooting Is ‘More Traumatic’

By: Joe Strupp

Four years ago, Rex Bowman of the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch was embedded with the First Marine Division in Iraq, having traveled with the unit as it stormed toward Baghdad.

For the past five days, the 20-year veteran reporter has been on a different mission of sorts, helping lead the coverage of the deadly Virginia Tech shooting that left 33 dead and thousands mourning. For the 46-year-old Bowman, a Virginia native and father of two, the campus shooting, in many ways, is a bigger story, and a tougher assignment.

He told E&P by cell phone from The Inn at Virginia Tech, which has become a pseudo press center, “This seems to be more momentous than even the war, it is kind of a tragic assault of epic proportions. It is a more intense tragedy.”

Bowman, an Air Force veteran, says even covering the war as an embed, which for him included a close call with an enemy attack, had less exposure to outright tragedy and suffering than the campus shooting has offered. “The war was a process, things were happening every day. This is more aftermath of a major calamity,” he said. “You are dealing with victims, investigations and traumatized family members and getting at the truth. A massive story to get your hands around.”

Adds Bowman, “in the war, even the embeds in the action were kind of isolated from the carnage. Here, you see the grief up close.” Bowman also noted that the campus killings strike close to home as a local son. “You hate for your state to be blighted by this tragedy,” he explained.

Bowman, who spent two months in Iraq during the war’s early days, has been on the story, along with several other Times-Dispatch scribes, since about 10 a.m. Monday when word of the shooting reached the paper’s Roanoke bureau, where he is based. His day runs from about 7 a.m. to midnight.

“I haven’t seen my wife for more than 40 minutes in the last four days,” he said.

The writer said the university has been very cooperative with the massive press encampment, but notes that investigators “are telling professors and students not to talk to us,” but adding, “it hasn’t stopped everybody.”

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