Virginia Tech Student Journalists Pen Book About Shootings

By: When the shooting began at Virginia Tech, a handful of students in one locked-down news writing class hurried to their computers.

The students in professor Roland Lazenby's class began reporting on the shootings in nearby Norris Hall for, a student-run news Web site.

Lazenby and seven student journalists eventually decided to publish the results of their reporting, and their book, "April 16th: Virginia Tech Remembers," is to be released Aug. 28.

But the decision to publish the manuscript about the April 16 shootings was not easy.

"There are certain people who think this book is a good idea. There are other people who think it is a terrible idea," Lazenby said. "Frankly, we spent every day of the summer as we prepared this book trying to answer that question."

When an agent approached Lazenby about a book, he and the students had some reservations. Was it too soon? What would their peers think?

They agreed to go forward with the project with the understanding that the decision had to be unanimous. They had the option of voting to archive it in the university library instead.

"It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life," said 20-year-old Suzanne Higgs, who worked on the book and was one of the students reporting from Lazenby's classroom on April 16. "But I felt it needed to be done."

The decision to write the book about a student's killing of 32 people has been met with some criticism.

Higgs received a verbal lashing from a victim's roommate, who called her insensitive. Some have suggested Lazenby and the students are seeking to profit from a tragedy. Others feel the community's pain is still too raw for a book.

But the students said they stand by their decision, which they say was driven partly by a desire to honor the victims.

Their book does not investigate the events leading up to that day, nor does it assign blame. Instead, in a series of narratives submitted by students, faculty and community members, it tells the story of April 16 and its aftermath through the eyes of those who experienced it firsthand.

More than a third of the book is reserved for victims' profiles, and a portion of the proceeds will go to a fund for the victims' families. The students also felt they could approach the subject with greater sensitivity than outsiders could.

Although much of the information in the book has already been reported, its oral history format provides a fresh perspective. The horrible moments inside Norris Hall and in hospitals are recounted by those who survived them.

"As the barrel of the gun and the shooter's eyes moved back across the room, he briefly stopped on me," wrote Derek O'Dell, who was shot by Seung-Hui Cho inside Norris.

"I saw into his eyes, his face darkened by the shadow from his maroon cap," O'Dell continued. "They seemed completely black and there appeared to be emptiness behind them. Sometimes you can look into a person's eyes and see their life story and the hardships they've encountered. With his there was nothing."

Other gut-wrenching narratives are from those who waited inside The Inn at Virginia Tech for word on their missing loved ones, and watched as those around them received the devastating news.

"Knowing that every one of those cries and screams was a representation of a lost life is something I will never forget," wrote student Megan Meadows, who learned her close friend Reema Samaha was among the dead.


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