April 16, 2007
By now everyone’s heard the horrific news of what happened at Virginia Tech. And horrifying, it truly is. We live in a world where things like this aren’t supposed to happen. People like this aren’t supposed to exist.
The students at Virginia Tech right now, are quite a bit shell-shocked. They’re asking two questions:
1- How could this happen here?
I know what they’re thinking because– unfortunately– I’ve been there. Readers Sober John and Sam will remember this too, we were all residents of Wiley Hall at Purdue University when a student shot his counselor, before turning his gun on himself. That student was Jarrod Eskew, and the counselor, Jay Severson was the RA on his floor at Wiley.
Given that I know the circumstances behind what Eskew did, I’m not going to say that it’s the same thing that happened at Virginia Tech. Eskew’s act was one of despair and escape, not one of a madman. Not that I’m excusing it, of course, but that it appears to have much different motivations than what anyone who would gun down 32 people was doing.
I knew Jarrod’s roommate (who, in retrospect, was a very bad influence on him), and actually played Euchre with Jarrod one night. He lived a floor above me, all the way at the end of the hall. He seemed like a pretty normal kid, and from all the stories I’ve heard about him after the fact, I think that was not an unfair characterization. He came from a small town not far from Purdue, where he was an athlete and general good student. But things took a turn for the worse when he went to college.
Like many college students, he took his newfound freedom too far, getting involved in drugs. I wouldn’t have guessed it the night I met him, but it wasn’t all that long afterwards that his RA (Severson) caught him one night with cocaine. Eskew took off before the cops could show up. The next day, he came back from Crawfordsville, where he’d gotten a shotgun, confronted and shot Severson, and barricaded himself in his room.
I came back from class to see that Wiley Hall was shut down, with police tape all the way out at the street (see the picture midway down the above linked story, I was in that crowd). Nobody really had an idea what was going on. But it’s not usually a very promising thing to look up at the Co-Rec (recreation center), which was across the street from Wiley, and see sharpshooters on the roof. At this point, it’s believed that Eskew had already turned the gun on himself, but the cops hadn’t gone into his room yet.
Later that afternoon, they finally allowed most of us back into the building, and eventually let the third floor residents (where Eskew and Severson had lived) back in (either late that night or the next morning).
After all this happened, the grieving and the healing began. For myself, and the other folks who had met Jarrod, this was an odd time. How could I reconcile people acting as if he was a monster, with my impression that he was someone who just got caught up in something that was way too big for him, and made the worst, most irrational choice in front of him? For almost everyone at Purdue, who had gone through life in towns where this sort of stuff doesn’t happen, it was a bit of a wake-up call, that there are life-and-death problems in the real world. Eventually for most of us, a sense of normalcy returned, but it’s a time in my life that will never be forgotten.
Why am I telling you all about this? Truthfully, I’m not sure I know. I think that there’s still something in my head that tells me that it’s not right, it shouldn’t have happened, and I want an explanation for it. It was 10 years ago, and I still don’t like accepting that it did happen, because it shouldn’t have. Nobody deserves responsibility for what happened except for Jarrod Eskew, but you have to ask whether things like the war on drugs were a factor. Because of the seriousness of being caught with cocaine, he must have felt like his entire life was over, and then he made it so. Jarrod should have sought help; he shouldn’t have given up and taken two lives. I look back on it to this day and just think it was wrong and didn’t have to happen. But it did, and I need to accept it.
I guess that’s the only message I can give to the people at Virginia Tech right now. This wasn’t supposed to happen, and you all know it wasn’t supposed to happen. Everyone wishes they could go back to yesterday, before it occurred. But you can’t. The only thing you can do is try to accept it and get some sense of normalcy back. That’s not an easy thing to do, and I’m sure it will be even harder, since the attack at Virginia Tech seems so much more senseless than the one at Purdue (which already is pretty senseless). You can never make it disappear, you can’t go back to the past and stop it from happening. You can’t get rid of the understanding that stupid, senseless, violent things happen in the world. I wish I could tell you that I had answers to the questions above. But there are no answers that have ever made sense to those questions. As far as I am concerned, the answers don’t exist. All you can do is accept it and move on…
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