Virginia Tech J-School Class Writing First Book on Massacre

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By: Joe Strupp

Just two weeks after the tragic Virginia Tech massacre, the first book on the shootings is in the works by a journalism instructor and several of his students who were locked down in their classroom for hours during the deadly rampage that left 33 dead.

Roland Lazenby, an eight-year instructor in the university’s communications department, said Plume Publishing, a Penquin Books subsidiary, is planning to publish the book, tentatively titled: “April 16: Heartbreak in Blacksburg.” Publisher’s Weekly first reported the deal Monday. Plume officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

“It is a group effort,” said Lazenby, who says at least 10 students in his media writing class are involved. “We as a group have a lot of things we want to say, the book affords us an opportunity to do that. It is a look not only at the events, but at the aftermath and how we reported it.”

A portion of the proceeds will go to a victims fund and the Department of Communications, Lazenby said. He did not have details on the contract, but said it is still being finalized.

Much of the book will focus on the experience of Lazenby’s class, which was in session when word of the shootings spread through campus. He said the students were locked down in the classroom for three hours during the shooting spree, just 150 yards from the center of the killings. “A university employee came door to door to say that the shootings had expanded,” Lazenby recalled about the day of the killings. “I had a very frightened group of kids. They sat on the floor and I continued to lecture for a few minutes.”

Eventually, many of the students began covering the story from their classroom computers, phoning hospitals and university offices for information and posting items on Planetblacksburg.com, which Lazenby described as a “student journalism club web site.”

“We began filing reports to the site, the students were calling for information,” he said. “I was able to show them how to work a police perimeter and talk to university workers.” He said some of the postings were linked to the BBC and CNN Web sites.

Lazenby had no information on when the book might be published, but said the manuscript is due June 1. “We know what we want to say,” he said. “We want to look at the people affected and talk about that.”

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