April 16th marks the 10th anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech. Gunman Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on the campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, killing 32 people — the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. In this first-person essay, former TODAY anchor Meredith Vieira shares her memories of that tragic day.
I remember the phone call from TODAY executive producer Jim Bell, "There's been a shooting at Virginia Tech." It was early afternoon, April 16, 2007. Details were still sketchy, but we knew it was bad. Turns out, it wasn't a shooting. It was a massacre.
I had been with TODAY for six months. This was my first time traveling with the rest of the team to the site of a major story. The next morning we were live on the university campus, trying to make sense out of something totally senseless. I kept thinking to myself, "You're a journalist. Make sure you get this right."
Matt and I interviewed school and law enforcement officials, searching for any updated piece of information. Thirty-two innocent people, students and teachers, were dead. Hundreds of survivors milled about our makeshift set. They all looked lost and confused. And so heartbreakingly young.
A few spoke with us about what they had witnessed. Did they see us through their red-rimmed eyes as vultures, descending into their world to pick apart their grief? To point a microphone in their face and ask, "How do you feel?" I prayed they didn't. But a part of me felt like an interloper in somebody else's tragedy.
That evening the students held a candlelight vigil. I went without any agenda. I just felt an overwhelming need to be there. As I was standing off to the side, a young lady nervously approached me. She told me that her parents lived far away. She said that she had watched TODAY for years and had grown to see us as an extension of her family. And right now she needed a mom to hold her.
We embraced and cried on each other's shoulders. I thought about all these students whose lives would never be the same. I thought about my three teenage kids at home, and about the children who would never go home again. I wanted to make sense out of all this, for all their sakes. But that young lady just wanted to be held.
I have never made sense out of the massacre at Virginia Tech or any of the other school shootings that have happened since. But I am forever grateful to have given a voice to the students there. And to have provided some comfort for at least one.
I always thought morning television was just something people turned on while getting dressed or eating breakfast. That student showed me the power and immense responsibility that comes when you invite yourself into other people's homes. I will never forget that hug on the campus of Virginia Tech, in the midst of so much pain. And wherever she is today, I hope and pray she is well.