Published Mon, Apr 16, 2012 3:54 pm Dateline
Today marks five years since more than 30 people died in what has become the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.
On April 16, 2007, a student at Virginia Tech University opened fire in two separate incidents, killing 32 people, injuring 25 others and then killing himself.
Since that day, college campuses have never been the same.
"It just was a wakeup call to the entire nation in terms of the concerns that we must have on a college campus. There was a time when we didn't think tragedies like that would happen on college campuses," said Roderick McDavis, Ohio University president.
That wakeup call forced universities to question how safe their campuses are.
"After Virginia Tech, they shut all the doors and increased security to where [in order] to go anywhere, up a floor, down a floor, out to the lobby, on the first floor, you needed your dorm key to get in and out of everywhere, and you weren’t allowed to hang around outside. Just stuff like that. Those privileges got taken away," said AJ Strum. Strum was a freshman at OU during the massacre.
"In many ways, Virginia Tech was to university policing what September 11th was on a national level to homeland security," said Andrew Powers, OU police chief. "It kind of raised everyone's awareness about our vulnerabilities and that we need to do a better job communicating with each other across disciplines at the university."
Communication was lacking at Virginia Tech on that day. The university did not send out an email to students about the attack until two hours after the first shooting.
The university was found guilty of negligence just last month for delaying the campus warning system.
In 2007, during the Virginia Tech massacre, a university student might have received a text message or phone call from a friend letting them know what was going on. If a similar incident were to happen today, students should immediately receive a text message alert from the university on their phone, learn about it on twitter or hear it through the campus-wide emergency public announcement system.
Warning people instantly of potential dangers on campus is something Ohio University says it has put on the forefront in the past five years.
"I think awareness is really the key. I think keeping everyone aware of the potential for danger for tragedy is always important. You never want to panic a campus, but you do want people to be aware that there are certain steps that you can take, that all of us can take, to make this a safer campus," said McDavis.
At Hocking College in Nelsonville, police officers are forced to walk around campus at the beginning and end of every shift.
"They have to be visible, so if they park their car at one end and go on foot patrol at another, that fine. When someone is looking to take advantage of another, a criminal or aggressive person looking for prey, they see that police car. It might be empty, but it'll deter them," said Al Matthews, police chief at Hocking College.
OU offers a training program to help people learn how to react in a dangerous situation.
"Individuals need to fight back in order to overcome or overpower the assailant. So if someone comes in with a gun, instead of complying with him, fight back! [Our] training really stresses that mindset," said Powers.
Teachers are encouraged to look for and report students that exhibit concerning behavior, but it’s often up to the students to keep an eye out for potential danger.
"We won’t be the ones that will come across it. It'll be the students or the faculty and staff that have to be aware, and we do press that to be more aware, look around, take a second if it doesn't look right," said Al Matthews.
Training and preparation are key to keeping campuses safe but these tragedies are usually unpredictable.
"You just don't know. So you get up every day hoping that nothing like that will happen on your campus, but you live with the reality that it could," said McDavis.
In honor of the victims, Virginia Tech held a moment of silence this morning followed by the ringing of a bell for each victim of the shooting.
Virginia's governor also attended a university commemoration and candlelight vigil at the school.