Learning from tragedy

Kiera Manion-Fischer

One year later, the Va. Tech shooting still affects how colleges look at campus safety

Daniel Kwasny remembers the day of the shootings.

Kwasny, a senior business information technology major at Virginia Tech, said he spent the day one year ago in Blacksburg, Va., like many students did, searching for information on Facebook.

The next day, more information didn’t make it any easier.

“April 17 was worse though,” he said. “It was the day we found out who died and who lived.”

Brian Collins, area residence coordinator at Virginia Tech, called in sick April 16. He then heard that there had been a shooting at a residence hall on campus in an e-mail from his boss. Collins didn’t know how serious it was. When the university sent an e-mail to everyone saying a gunman was loose on campus, he got dressed and went to work.

He supervised nine buildings and six students from his area were killed. One, Caitlin Hammaren, was an RA in his area.

“For the students who had died in my area, I escorted a number of parents to their rooms, so they could get their belongings,” Collins said.

Collins had worked at Kent State as a residence hall director for six and a half years before getting a promotion to Virginia Tech last spring. He has since moved on to become an associate director of residence life at Elon University in North Carolina.

Now, a year later, Kwasny said he can see a greater sense of community at Virginia Tech. More students participate in community service, he said.

His university has taken steps to create a safer environment. Because students could only be notified by e-mail during the shootings, Kwasny said the university has implemented a text-messaging service similar to FlashAlerts. He also noticed a greater police presence.

Collins said the university also started keeping the residence hall doors locked at all hours, when before they had been open between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

“Most of our buildings are about as high tech as Kent State’s Bowman Hall,” Kwasny said. “The upgrades definitely helped. Just locking a door would have saved a lot of lives.”

Kent State has also taken steps to further its students’ safety. The summer after the shootings, Kent State’s department of Public Safety began to re-evaluate its own emergency plans and implement some updates.

The department came out with an emergency guide in late February with tips on how faculty, students and staff should deal with emergencies. Kent State’s new emergency management plan, which deals with the university’s response to emergency situations, will come out after it is approved by the Board of Trustees.

The guide tells people what they can do if there were to be a gunman on campus, such as remaining indoors and locking all exterior doors and windows.

The university is also improving its mass notification system by installing a public address system throughout campus to inform people of emergencies.

John Peach, chief of Kent State police, said the alert monitors will be in every building by the beginning of fall semester. They will also install outdoor speakers.

Peach said the department is working to allow 911 cell phone calls from any area on campus to be sent directly to the Kent State police dispatcher.

Currently, if a student on campus calls 911 on a cell phone, it goes first to the Portage County Sheriff’s office, and then is directed to Kent State police. Peach said the department is waiting for the county to make this possible.

“We were supposed to get that at the end of last month or this month,” he said.

Lt. William Buckbee of the Kent State Police Department said since the shootings at Columbine, police are now trained to immediately go in to stop a shooter, instead of waiting for the SWAT team to arrive.

“We plan, we train, we prepare and we hope we never have to use what we have learned,” he said.

Tragedy at Virginia Tech: The week in Staters

After the shootings, the Daily Kent Stater sent a reporter and photographer to report from Blacksburg, Va., in addition to our coverage of reaction at Kent State and throughout Ohio and Associated Press coverage.

READ stories from April 17, 2007.

READ stories from April 18, 2007.

WATCH a slideshow of Virginia Tech students in the aftermath of the shootings.

READ stories from April 20, 2007.

Contact safety reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at [email protected].