On April 16, 2007, 32 people were shot and killed at Virginia Tech. Journalist Thomas Kapsidelis supervised the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s coverage of the tragedy. In his new book, Kapsidelis examines the decade after the massacre through the experiences of survivors and those who lost loved ones.
Kapsidelis is WMRA's featured author at Books & Brews on October 8-9, 2019. He spoke with WMRA’s Chris Boros who asked him what his initial reaction was to the shootings.
Thomas Kapsidelis: Disbelief and the rapidly forming realization that we would all be called upon to cover a tragedy the likes none of us had ever faced.
WMRA: As a journalist, how difficult was it for you to not let it get to you personally?
TK: It’s really impossible for it not to affect you personally. As the same time, we realized we had a responsibility as journalists to the community to report the story as accurately and thoroughly and respectively as possible.
WMRA: When you were working on this book and you reached out to survivors or parents who had lost a child, what was that like, how did you deal with that?
TK: I tried to approach family members and survivors and their loved ones with the understanding that they would be full partners in my attempt to tell their story. I wanted them to convey to me what their experiences were and how they had persevered through this period, and how some of their work as advocates became an inspiration to others who were seeing reforms at this time.
WMRA: Is there a specific story of one of the survivors or family members you’ve talked to that really stands out for you as being powerful?
TK: I think they’re all powerful in different regards. Some of the survivors who I profiled in the book have been active in gun safety. Two police chaplains and a former lieutenant with the Blacksburg police department created a program – the Virginia Law Enforcement Assistance Program that helps officers who have responded to scenes of great trauma helps them in dealing with their own emotions after responding to such tragic and traumatic events. Their work drew directly from the efforts at Virginia Tech.
WMRA: How did Virginia Tech deal with the tragedy? Is it still something that is remembered on campus or have they swept it under the rug?
TK: There was a lot of controversy within the first two years and longer over the university’s response. I would say that the university has a tremendous spirit. When I went there for the ten year memorial anniversary in 2017, there was a huge turnout for a memorial walk and run and the memorial events were held with great dignity and were very well attended so I believe there is a determination to not forget.
WMRA: When you hear stories about new mass shootings I assume it hits you pretty tough. What’s that like for you when you continue to hear stories about these things happening?
TK: It’s very difficult when there are repeated instances of mass gun violence in our country and certainly this summer we’ve seen so many. It’s especially difficult for the survivors, not only in Virginia Tech, but in other mass shootings so as a journalist, yes it is extremely difficult but it’s nothing compared to what the survivors feel and what the family members and their supporters feel when they see the country unable to take action to reduce the chances of such tragedies happening again.
WMRA: When you do talk to survivors or people who have lost loved ones, do you think there is a common thread of how people cope with such a tragedy?
TK: They want the memories of their loved ones to be honored through actions that can reduce the chances of something like this happening to other families.