Helpless in the Face of Madness
By BOB HERBERT
The second semester French class began a little after 9 on the morning of April 16, 2007. The weather that day was unusually cold for April. A light snow was falling.
One of the students, Colin Goddard, now 25, recalled what happened that morning in a new documentary film, “Living for 32.”
“We started hearing loud banging noises outside of our classroom,” he said. “The teacher went to the door to look into the hallway to see what was going on. ... As soon as she opened it, she shut it back again and said, ‘Everyone get underneath your desk and somebody call 911.’ I pulled out my phone and dialed 911, and I said, ‘We’re in Norris Hall. There’s a shooting going on.’ And as soon as I basically got that out, we saw bullets coming through the door.”
Norris Hall is one of the main academic buildings on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, known as Virginia Tech. The gunman was a crazed student named Seung-Hui Cho, who was armed with a pair of semiautomatic pistols. It was not the first class he had visited that day.
Goddard remembered being shot in his left knee and feeling the blood, warm, seeping down his leg. The gunmen apparently left the panicked classroom momentarily. But the sound of gunfire continued.
“And then,” Goddard said, “the bangs just got much louder again, and you could tell he was back in our room. This time he more methodically came down each of the rows, and he was still firing. At one point he was standing at my feet, and that’s when I was shot a second time, in my left hip. Then he shot me a third time, in my right shoulder, and it flipped my whole body around and exposed my right side. And I was shot a fourth time, in my right hip.”
In case we hadn’t noticed, a photo and a headline on the front page of The New York Times this week gave us some insight into just how sick our society has become. The photo showed 11-year-old Dallas Green weeping and using his left arm to wipe his eyes during the funeral for his sister, Christina-Taylor Green, who was 9 years old and was killed in the attack in Tucson that took the lives of five other people and left Representative Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded.
Beneath the photo was the headline: “Sadness Aside, No Shift Seen On Gun Laws.”
What is the matter with us? Are we really helpless in the face of the astounding toll that guns take on this society?
More than 30,000 people die from gunfire every year. Another 66,000 or so are wounded, which means that nearly 100,000 men, women and children are shot in the United States annually. Have we really become so impotent as a society, so pathetically fearful in the face of the extremists, that we can’t even take the most modest of steps to begin curbing this horror?
Where is the leadership? We know who’s on the side of the gun crazies. Where is the leadership on the side of sanity?
For starters, assault weapons should be banned. Their raison d’être is to kill the maximum number of people — people, not animals — in the shortest amount of time.
In “Living for 32,” the 32 refers to the 32 students and faculty members who were killed by Cho at Virginia Tech. Goddard, during a filmed visit to the site of the shooting, remembered that when the police showed up, they had to call out to the survivors inside the classroom for help in opening the door, which was blocked by bodies piled in front of it.
He said it was only when the police cried out, “Shooter down!” that he realized that Cho had killed himself. Then came the awful process of triage: “I remember hearing them walk up to people, saying, ‘This person’s yellow. This person’s red.’ And then I heard, ‘Black tag. Black tag. Black tag.’ And that’s when I realized that there were other students in here who didn’t make it.”
The professor, Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, 49, was also killed.
The film, produced by Maria Cuomo Cole and directed by Kevin Breslin, chronicles Goddard’s recovery from his wounds, his return to Virginia Tech to get his degree, and his commitment to fight for stricter gun laws. He is now working with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Goddard does not want guns banned and has no desire to deny people their constitutional rights. But he believes there are sensible steps that could be taken that would make the U.S. a safer and better place, a place where college students and their professors do not have to worry about getting shot to death in the classroom.