Hokie Nation mourns

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2007

As the breaking news reports flashed on the TV screen Monday morning, people all across the world watched in horror as the death toll climbed in the wake of on-campus shootings at Virginia Tech University.

For Roanoke-Chowan area residents Heather Odom and Joyce Brantley, their respective reactions were perhaps a bit different than others.

Odom, a Virginia Tech alum, and Brantley, whose son is a graduate of the Blacksburg, Va. school, saw their emotions run rampant.

“My initial reaction was it can’t happen there,” said Odom who holds her Bachelor’s (1998) and Master’s (1999) degrees from Virginia Tech. “You think this sort of thing happens in big cities. Blacksburg isn’t a big place, despite Virginia Tech being there. The full magnitude of what happened was just shocking, very shocking.”

Meanwhile, Brantley said the news was “devastating.”

“This is all very, very sad,” Brantley said. “I just want the students, their parents and the staff at Virginia Tech to know that you are in my prayers and that I love each and every one of you.”

Knowing young people were tragically killed in the prime of their lives really touched home for Brantley. Her only child, Thomas Nicholas “Nick” Brantley died at the age of 26 when his Navy Seahawk helicopter went down off the North Carolina coast during a training exercise in September of 2005. Nick Brantley graduated from Virginia Tech in 2001 before launching a military career with the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant and Helicopter Aircraft Commander prior to his death.

“I understand that two of the students killed on Monday were the only children in their families,” Joyce Brantley said. “I can share with them that type of grief.”

Brantley added she had just experienced an emotional high just one week earlier when the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets awarded the inaugural Nick Brantley Memorial Scholarship. Then, four days later, the unthinkable occurred.

“The Hokie Nation will get through these sad days,” Brantley noted. “It’s a very close knit school with alumni worldwide. There’s a motto within the Cadet Corps that says ‘you’re bud is your bud for life’. That saying will make them stick together and make them stronger.”

Odom echoed Brantley’s thoughts.

“I think the university n all of us, alumni, everyone n will pull together and rise above this,” Odom said. “We’ll be stronger for it.”

What troubles Odom, now an Agricultural Agent working in Northampton County, is how Monday’s chain of events will shape public opinion of Virginia Tech.

“I hope this is not going to define Virginia Tech because the harsh reality is this could happen anywhere as we’ve seen with Columbine (High School in Colorado, the scene of a 1999 mass murder where 12 students and one teacher were slain),” Odom stressed.

Odom added that Virginia Tech was in her blood. Her grandfather attended the school and she has, past and present, other relatives to attend.

“It was the only school I applied to,” she said.

In hindsight of the shootings, Odom said it was easy to say “this or that” should have been done.

“I believe the officials there did best they could with information they had,” Odom said. “Who could say they’re prepared for something of this magnitude to happen. I do know they’ll be better prepared if it should happen again. All schools will be because other colleges realize now it can happen to them too.”

As expressed by Brantley, Odom said her heart is heavy with grief for the families affected by this tragedy.

“My heart aches for the families that have lost someone and the students who lost friends or faculty members,” Odom concluded. “Nobody wants to be in that situation. I know the relief I felt when I found out my family was okay. I can’t imagine if the news had been the other way.”

There remain too many questions and not enough answers to why another student, senior English major Cho Seung-Hui, opened fire on Monday morning, killing 33, including himself. What is known is that the Hokie Nation will survive. People like Joyce Brantley and Heather Odom will see to that.