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A Virginia State Trooper walked out of Norris Hall at Virginia Tech Monday and doubled over, puking out his breakfast. A brisk wind, gusting at times to 50 miles per hour, blew parts of the retch back onto his otherwise spotless blue and grey uniform.
A Montgomery County sheriff's deputy, outfitted in mostly-new special weapons and tactics gear, sat at the back of his department's SWAT van and sobbed.
"I've never seen anything like it," he said. "Never."
Nobody had – not veteran cops, not rookies not rescue squad workers, not journalists on the scene.
The trail of carnage left by a deranged semi-automatic pistol toting South Korean English major at Virginia Tech left everyone in a state of shock.
The media calls it as massacre. It's more than that. It's madness.
We may or may not ever know what triggered Cho Seung-Hui to go on a killing spree that left 32 dead before he took his own life. How can we? Insanity, whether temporary or permanent, is difficult to explain.
Over the years I've watched Virginia Tech grow from a sleepy land-grant agricultural college into Virginia's largest university with a nationally-recognized engineering school and dreams of becoming a national college football powerhouse.
As a high school student in an adjacent county in the early 1960s I contemplated attending Tech (or VPI as it was known in those days). I opted instead for the then Roanoke campus of the University of Virginia so I could work as a reporter at The Roanoke Times.
Many of my high school friends attended Tech. Some of those same friends have children and grandchildren among the 26,000 students. Thankfully, none of their offspring were among the dead or wounded.
I've witnessed and been a part of too much death in my lifetime. I have killed for my country without fully understanding why. I have photographed death and watched too many people die through my camera lens.
Prolonged exposure to death leaves too many of us callous towards the violence and carnage. I became hardened by constant exposure to death but never fully immune: Too many nightmares, too many sleepless nights.
When I retired and returned to my boyhood home in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia, I thought I had left that world behind. There hasn't been a murder in my sleepy county for more than a decade.
But civilization and the uncivilized behavior it spawns encroach daily on our tranquil mountains. Nearby Roanoke has one of the highest crime rates in Virginia. The Tech campus sits just 35 minutes away in rapidly-growing Montgomery County, part of an increasingly urban New River Valley.
Earlier this year, our sheriff's department asked the board of supervisors for money to set up a "school interdiction" team complete with SWAT team and a Marine-trained sniper.
"I hope it never happens here," Sheriff Shannon Zeman told me. "But if it does I want to be prepared to go in and take out the threat."
Last fall, an escaped prisoner killed a security guard at a Montgomery County hospital and then a cop on the Tech campus. We held our breath and then breathed a sigh of relief when police captured him.
When the first reports of a shooting at a dorm surfaced Monday morning, we said "oh no, not again." As details emerged, we realized this was like nothing anyone had seen before. Not here.
Those who died must be mourned. Those whose heroic acts saved the lives of others must be remembered and honored.
Unfortunately, those who exploit tragedy in order to promote political agendas show their true colors at this time with callous disregard for simple human decency.
There will be time to deal with such opportunists.
Now is a time for mourning.